An unfortunate, unexpected outcome of air travel picking up again after the pandemic has been the shocking instances of passenger unruliness and violence.
It is now an undeniable trend of this post-pandemic age of travel that passengers have lashed out at airline staff in unprecedented levels. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced recently that they have opened over 1000 investigations into such cases this year alone, amidst 5000 reports of unruliness.
This is the highest total of investigations into belligerent plane travelers since the FAA started recording figures in 1995, compared to a usual average of 136 per year.
These are staggering numbers to read, and some of these incidents have been quite severe; drawing national headlines. For example, in July, a Frontier Airlines passenger had to be taped to his seat after allegedly groping two flight attendants while at altitude. Last month, an American Airlines flight attendant was hospitalized after a passenger broke several of their bones.
Despite this blatant and worsening grend passenger aggression, airlines have largely been left to deal with the problem themselves, with government offering little to no help at all.
Airlines and their respective unions have seemingly been doing everything they can to protect their staff, whilst also appealing for more effective action to be taken at a federal level.
Mercifully, Attorney General Merrick Garland has now spoken out on the issue, issuing a memo last week telling federal prosecutors to prioritize prosecutions for airplane violence during the holiday travel season amidst the startling rise.
Garland’s memo urged U.S. attorneys to “prioritize prosecution of federal crimes occurring on commercial aircraft that endanger the safety of passengers, flight crews, and flight attendants.”
Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg has also commented, saying that a centralized no-fly list for culprits of passenger violence “should be on the table.”
This stance is welcome but arguably overdue for those on the front line in airports and planes, who have been forced to suffer verbal and physical abuse regularly with little intervention or recrimination from the government.
These statements from the transportation secretary and the attorney general come months after Delta airlines vice-president Joanne Smith called for a shared no-fly list to bring offenders to some form of justice. Smith wrote an open letter in September saying the company has “asked other airlines to share their no-fly list to further protect airline employees across the industry”.
Similarly, flight attendant union president Sara Nelson has long advocated for such a list, arguing that “there can be an additional tier of advising and flagging for potential problem passengers where one airline has conducted an internal investigation and determined that they are going to ban that traveler from that particular airline”
“It’s another step that can be added to the list that would not be a no-fly required by the TSA, but shared information to help make good decisions and keep problems on the ground,” she added.
Meanwhile, as these pleas continue to fall on deaf ears, ever more disturbing attacks rack up on the evening news. Just last week a drunk women had to be restrained and jailed after attacking two flight attendants on a Spirit flight.
The government’s tentative endorsement of a shared no-fly list and promises to bring these passengers to swift justice is certainly a step in the right direction. But in the time it has taken them to catch up with what industry leaders have been saying for months, workers continue to be endangered.
Let’s hope they don’t’ delay legislation any further, and follow through on their promises with decisive action.