More than 85 percent of flight attendants dealt with unruly passengers in the first half of 2021, according to a survey conducted by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA).
Nearly 1 in 5 flight attendants experienced a physical incident, according to the survey, which polled nearly 5,000 flight attendants.
AFA on Thursday called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Justice Department to protect crew members and passengers from verbally and physically abusive travelers. The union said 71 percent of flight attendants who filed incident reports with airline management didn’t receive a follow-up.
“This is not a ‘new normal’ we are willing to accept,” said AFA President Sara Nelson in a statement. “We know the government, airlines, airports, and all stakeholders can take actions together to keep us safe and flying friendly.”
Federal law forbids passengers from interfering with airplane crew members, but flight attendants said unruly passengers have only been given a “slap on the wrist” such as temporary travel bans.
The FAA has documented more than 3,600 reports of unruly passengers this year, a huge increase over previous years. The agency’s data shows that a majority of the incidents stem from enforcement of the federal mask mandate.
Earlier this year, the FAA enacted a zero-tolerance policy, under which unruly passengers could face criminal charges, hefty fines or a lifetime ban on certain airlines. Earlier this month, the FAA proposed civil penalties against nine passengers, including a $21,500 fine against a passenger who refused to wear a mask during a December flight.
However, only two passengers have so far agreed to pay fines for refusing to comply with mask rules amid thousands of incidents. The FAA has said that it takes “significant time” to settle cases against unruly passengers.
The uptick in unruly passengers comes amid a nationwide surge in summer travel. Domestic flights and ticket sales were down only slightly from the same period in 2019.