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Flight attendant's bloody assault by passenger part of disturbing trend

A Southwest Airlines flight attendant who lost two teeth after she was physically assaulted by a passenger on Sunday is among the more egregious examples of an unsettling increase in unruly and dangerous behavior on the part of air travelers.

There were 477 passenger misconduct incidents on Southwest flights between April 8 and May 15, including one Sunday morning on a flight landing at San Diego International Airport, according to the carrier's flight attendant union.

"This past weekend, one of our flight attendants was seriously assaulted, resulting in injuries to the face and a loss of two teeth," TWU Local 556 President Lyn Montgomery wrote in a letter to Southwest CEO Gary Kelly.

"This unprecedented number of incidents has reached an intolerable level, with passenger non-compliance events also becoming more aggressive in nature," Montgomery said.

"We are asking our carrier, the government and the flying public's help in ending this epidemic of aggression and assault. Flight attendants are first responders in the sky who are focused on safety. As people return to the skies, we are asking for everyone's help in complying with flight attendant requests to help ensure a safe and fun atmosphere for all," she said in an emailed statement to CBS MoneyWatch.

"Verbally and physically abusive"

Southwest confirmed the recent incident in an emailed statement.

"Our reports indicate that a passenger physically assaulted a flight attendant upon landing on Flight #700 from Sacramento to San Diego Sunday morning," the spokesperson stated. "The passenger repeatedly ignored standard inflight instructions and became verbally and physically abusive upon landing. Law enforcement officials were requested to meet the flight upon arrival, and the passenger was taken into custody."

A woman who shared a video of police officers escorting a woman from the aircraft said the flight attendant told a passenger to keep her seat belt fastened while the plane was still moving, with the passenger responding by punching her in the head.

"While the flight attendant was staggering back with a bloody face, we were all told to stay in our seats while they brought in police to remove the unruly passenger," she relayed in a post on Facebook.

"We do not condone or tolerate verbal or physical abuse of our flight crews, who are responsible for the safety of our passengers," the Southwest spokesperson said.

The incident came a day before the Federal Aviation Administration fined a passenger $52,500 for trying to open the cockpit door and hit a flight attendant in the face twice on a Delta Air Lines flight in late December.

The FAA also said it was seeking fines against three other passengers for behavior including refusing to wear a mask and for threatening others. They include:

  • A woman facing a $9,000 fine for continually refusing to wear a mask properly and cursing at flight attendants on a February 15 Allegiant Air flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Knoxville, Tennessee.

  • A passenger on a February 5 flight facing a fine of $18,500 for bringing his own alcohol on board a JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale to Las Vegas and refusing to stop drinking it when asked by flight attendants. The FAA said he also kept removing his face mask and wearing it improperly despite the directions of flight attendants.

  • The agency is also seeking a $27,000 fine against a passenger who allegedly threatened to kill someone and claimed to have access to a bomb on a January 1, 2020, flight Southwest flight from Phoenix to Chicago. The flight was diverted to Oklahoma City where police took the man into custody.

The FAA has received about 2,500 reports of unruly passenger behavior and 1,900 reports of passengers refusing to wear masks in defiance of a federal mandate.

While fewer people have been flying since the coronavirus took hold in the U.S. in March 2020, Transportation Security Administration data show an increase in recent weeks of passengers being screened at airports. More than 1.6 million people were screened Sunday, the most on any single day since last year. The number of passengers was down 61% in 2020.

At the same time, more passengers are getting banned by airlines for unruly behavior. The lists maintained by the airlines — different from the federal no-fly list — had swelled to more than 3,000 as of February, data compiled by CBS News showed.

Montgomery, the Transport Workers Union official, is concerned matters will only get worse when Southwest brings back alcoholic beverages this summer after largely going without during much of the pandemic. She's calling on Southwest to take stronger action to curtail passenger misconduct, including adding more to the carrier's restricted travelers list.

"The flying public needs to understand that egregious behavior will result in being banned from flying with Southwest," Montgomery wrote. "No passenger should be removed from one flight only to be permitted to board the very next Southwest Airlines flight after a non-compliance incident."

The union also urged the airline demand the government add federal air marshals to aircraft to help ensure safe travel.

This article originally appeared on CBS News

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