“It’s an environment we’ve just never seen before, and we can’t wait for it to be over,” the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA president said on “Squawk Box”.
The behavior has gone “completely crazy,” added Nelson, whose union represents about 50,000 cabin crew on more than a dozen carriers. “It’s a constant combative attitude. … This must end. “
Nelson’s comments follow a recent violent confrontation that resulted in facial injuries to a Southwest Airlines flight attendant and the loss of two teeth. In a statement to NBC News earlier this week, Southwest said the passenger “repeatedly ignored standard flight instructions and became verbally and physically abusive on landing.”
A 28-year-old woman has been charged with assault and battery in the incident, which occurred during a flight from Sacramento to San Diego.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday it has received around 2,500 reports of unruly passenger behavior since Jan. 1, about three-quarters of which involve failure to comply with the federal face mask mandate instituted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s more than 20 times higher than what is normally recorded over an entire year, Nelson told CNBC. She noted the role masks are playing in the outbreak and expressed disappointment that on-board health protocols were seen as “a political issue.”
The federal mask requirement is in effect until September 14, and the FAA intends to maintain its zero tolerance policy for passenger disruption in place as long as the warrant applies.
While air travel has picked up in recent months as Covid vaccinations become more available, data from TSA checkpoints shows travel is still significantly below 2019 levels.
“Typically, what flight attendants do, when we see a conflict arise on the plane, we are trained to defuse it. We are looking for our helpers, ”said Nelson. However, she said the roster of passengers was different from before Covid.
“It’s very difficult when you don’t have people on the plane who fly regularly, who kind of know the program, who are our typical people that we would go to, at least, create peer pressure but also help to try to calm these incidents, ”she said.
Nelson said an increased message about the consequences for passengers who act – like FAA fines – would be helpful. This not only includes messages on board the captain, but also at all airports, she said.
Temporary restrictions on alcohol sales would also be beneficial, Nelson said.
“Often times these events are exacerbated by alcohol, so we have asked the government and the airlines to ensure that they are not selling alcohol at this time as this only adds to the problem that is. clearly out of control. “