Flight attendants at Frontier Airlines could down tools and walk off the job after the Denver-based ultra-low-cost carrier decided to “suspend” crew members who were allegedly sexually assaulted by an unruly passenger who also physically assaulted a third flight attendant.
Video of the incident onboard a Frontier Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Miami on Saturday where the suspect is seen being duct-taped to his seat has since gone viral. Maxwell Berry, 22, was arrested by officers from Miami Dade Police Department and charged with three counts of battery.
Following the incident, Frontier Airlines confirmed that Berry had allegedly groped two female flight attendants on the breasts and physically assaulted a third crew member who stepped in to protect his colleagues.
The airline said all three crew members had been “relieved” from further flying duties until an internal investigation was completed. Frontier has faced a fierce backlash over claims it had suspended the victims in this case.
“Management suspended the crew as a knee-jerk reaction to a short video clip that did not show the full incident. Management should be supporting the crew at this time not suspending them,” slammed Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) which represents crew members at Frontier.
“We will be fighting this with every contractual and legal tool available, but we would hope there will be no need for that as management comes to their senses and supports the people on the frontline charged with keeping all passengers safe,” Nelson continued.
“If this is not immediately corrected, Flight Attendants may feel unsafe to come to work,” Nelson warned. “Management has a legal duty to maintain a safe work environment for employees.”
The union, which has had an opportunity to speak with the flight attendants involved in the incident, said it was one of the “worst examples” of unruly passenger behavior faced by crew members across the airline industry so far this year.
Multiple attempts to deescalate the situation were made by the flight attendants according to the union and only when they were “forced” to did they resort to using the only tools they had at their disposal by duct-taping the passenger to a seat.
“We are supporting the crew,” the union said in a statement.
In an updated statement on the incident, a spokesperson for Frontier said: “During a flight from Philadelphia to Miami on July 31, a passenger made inappropriate physical contact with two flight attendants and subsequently physically assaulted another flight attendant. As a result, the passenger needed to be restrained until the flight landed in Miami and law enforcement arrived.
“Frontier Airlines maintains the utmost value, respect, concern and support for all the flight attendants, including those who were assaulted on this flight. We are supporting the needs of these team members and are working with law enforcement to fully support the prosecution of the passenger involved.”
“The inflight crew members’ current paid leave status is in line with an event of this nature pending an investigation”.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has so far received 3,715 unruly passenger reports since the start of the year and initiated 628 investigations. Enforcement action has only been taken in 99 cases so far.
A recent survey by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) revealed that 85 per cent of flight attendants had dealt with at least one unruly passenger since the start of 2021 and over half had dealt with at least five unruly passengers incidents.
Around 17 per cent of flight attendants had experienced a physical assault in the last seven months. Alcohol was cited a common reason for unruly passenger behavior, along with non-compliance with the federal face mask mandate.
A poll of flight attendants in 2018 found that sexual assault and harassment was all too common, with nearly seven out of 10 flight attendants saying they had experienced sexual harassment during their careers and 18 per cent saying they had been physically sexually assaulted in the last year.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.