The Federal Aviation Administration is warning air travelers about what it describes as a dramatic increase in unruly or dangerous behavior on passenger planes.
In a typical year, the transport agency sees 100 to 150 formal cases of passenger misbehavior. But since the start of this year, the agency said, the number of reported cases has risen to 1,300, a number even more remarkable as passenger numbers remain below pre-pandemic levels.
The behavior in question includes passengers refusing to wear masks, drinking excessively and engaging in alleged physical or verbal assault, including what the agency describes as political intimidation and harassment of lawmakers.
In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for example, a brawl broke out amid an argument over wearing masks. In Washington, DC, a passenger was escorted off a flight after arguing with flight attendants over the mask rule.
In another case, a flight to Los Angeles was diverted to Denver and forced to make an emergency landing after a passenger allegedly attempted to open an emergency exit.
In recent days, Alaska Airlines has banned an Alaska state senator for refusing to comply with mask requirements, according to The Anchorage Daily News.
“It is not allowed and we will not tolerate interfering with a flight crew and the performance of their safety duties,” said Stephen Dickson, the FAA administrator, of the wave of incidents. “Period. “
The FAA is now taking a “zero tolerance” approach to bad behavior: unruly passengers face potential criminal charges, fines of up to $ 35,000, or lifetime bans on some airlines.
Bad behavior seems to take its toll. Angela Hagedorn, former Alaska Airlines flight attendant, tweeted that she recently quit.
“It has been an exhausting time for all the employees who are just trying to do their jobs according to their company policies,” she said.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants union, said airline workers have reported a wide range of disturbing incidents.
“What we saw on our planes were the flight attendants who were physically assaulted, pushed, suffocated,” Nelson said. “We have a passenger urinating. We made a passenger spit into the mouth of a child on board.
“These are some of the things that we have faced,” said Nelson, adding that the physical and verbal abuse that flight attendants are said to have suffered this year has been “far off the charts” compared to the past 20 years.
In the coming months, as parts of the United States begin to rebound from the pandemic and more people take flight, the FAA – along with the Transportation Security Administration and the Air Marshals – plans to monitor near behaviors that threaten the crew. the safety of members or passengers.