Airborne abuse: survey finds 85 percent of flight attendants affected

September 06, 2021
flight attendants
Photo: ICAO

There are calls for tough measures against unruly behavior to be made permanent after a survey of US flight attendants found more than 85 percent had experienced abuse in 2021.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA online survey of almost 5000 flight attendants across 30 airlines found more than half (58 percent) had experienced at least five incidents this year and 17 percent had experienced physical events.

Seven out of 10 respondents who had filed an incident report with management said there was no follow-up and most did not see efforts made to address the problem.

News of the survey, conducted in June and July, comes as the US Federal Aviation Administration announced last month that proposed fines for bad behavior on US airlines had topped $US1 million.

READ: Unruly behavior fines now top $US1 million

It said at the time it had received a record 3,889 reports of unruly behavior by passengers since January, including about 2,867 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal facemask mandate.

The mask mandate has now been extended until mid-January as cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant continue to surge in America.

But flight attendants believe the increase in unruly behavior goes beyond arguments in the US about masks.

“This survey confirms what we all know, the vitriol, verbal and physical abuse from a small group of passengers is completely out of control and is putting other passengers and flight crew at risk.,”’ said AFA-CWA president Sara Nelson.

“This is not just about masks as some have attempted to claim. There is a lot more going on here and the solutions require a series of actions in coordination across aviation.

“It is time to make the FAA ‘zero tolerance’ policy permanent, the Department of Justice to utilize existing statute to conduct criminal prosecution, and implement a series of actions proposed by our union to keep problems on the ground and respond effectively in the event of incidents.”

The most common time for misconduct was during a flight but about half reported seeing problems during boarding and 13 percent at the gate area.

More than 60 percent reported sexist, racist or homophobic slurs during incidents.

When asked about the reasons behind the unruly behavior, the flight attendants cited mask compliance, alcohol, routine safety reminders, flight delays and cancellations as common factors.

Many cited multiple factors contributing to incidents.

Incidents included extensive verbal abuse, including from visibly drunk passengers, passengers yelling and swearing in response to masking directions, and often aggressively challenging flight crew working to ensure compliance with federal rules.

Many respondents recounted aggressive incidents, including shoving, kicking seats, throwing rubbish at flight crew, defiling the restroom in response to crewmember instructions, and following flight crew through the airport to continue yelling and harassment.

One Flight Attendant complained that passengers who used foul or threatening language received a “slap on the wrist” when police and airline management met the plane and were sent on their way.

“ I’ve been yelled at, cursed at, and threatened countless times in the last year and the most that has come out of it has been a temporary suspension of travel for the passenger,’’ she said.

“We need real consequences if flight attendants are ever going to feel safe at work again.”

Another Flight Attendant wrote: “I was on the floor in the back of the plane and the [rest of] crew members didn’t know what happened until after my attacker had already deplaned.”