Flight attendant union president: Air rage incidents creating 'hostile environment'

The head of the country’s main flight attendant union said an increase in unruly passenger incidents is contributing to a “hostile environment” for the profession, ahead of a House subcommittee meeting on the issue Tuesday.  

“It used to be that it was a really bad day when something bad happened at work, when you had an outburst on a plane,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), told The Washington Post on Monday. 

“More and more we’ve seen this as a regular occurrence and that really chips away at people,” she said. 

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Nelson will testify at a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing on Tuesday along with other leaders of labor groups in the aviation industry. 

According to Federal Aviation Association (FAA) data released last week, 5,114 incidents involving unruly passengers have been reported this year. The agency has also levied $225K in fines against passengers over the incidents. 

Late last month, an American Airlines flight was diverted after a passenger allegedly assaulted a flight attendant. And the FAA has detailed multiple other physical and verbal assaults against attendants. 

Nelson said the verbal assaults are becoming increasingly personal, citing a July AFA-CWA study finding that 61 percent of flight attendants reported disruptive passengers used “sexist, racist, or homophobic language.”

“Flight attendants have been the target of a lot of anger and strife when they put on their uniforms,” she said. 

Nelson called on the Department of Justice to “criminally prosecute very publicly” bad actors and on the FAA to continue to levy fines and promote public awareness of air rage incidents.

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A number of House Democrats made a similar appeal to Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandGarland orders DOJ to prioritize violence on airplanes Buttigieg has high name recognition, favorability rating in Biden Cabinet: survey DOJ seeks to block merger of major sugar companies MORE in a letter earlier this month. 

"It is well documented that our nation has witnessed a sharp increase in air and airport confrontational behavior, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic," the lawmakers wrote. 

"We respectfully request that you immediately direct federal prosecutors to dedicate the resources necessary to onboard acts of violence," the letter added.