The Federal Aviation Administration warns air passengers of what it describes as a drastic increase in disobedient or dangerous behavior on board passenger planes.
In a typical year, the transport agency sees 100 to 150 official cases of passenger misconduct. But since the beginning of this year, the agency said, the number of registered cases has jumped to 1,300, an even more remarkable number as the number of passengers remains below pre-pandemic levels.
The conduct in question includes passengers refusing to wear masks, drinking excessively and committing alleged physical or verbal abuse, including what the agency describes as political intimidation and harassment of MPs.
For example, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a fistfight broke out amid a dispute over the wearing of masks. In Washington, DC, a passenger was escorted on a flight after arguing with flight attendants about the mask rule.
In another case, a flight to Los Angeles was diverted to Denver and forced to make an emergency landing after a passenger allegedly tried to open an emergency exit.
In recent days, Alaska Airlines has banned a senator from the state of Alaska for refusing to comply with the requirements for a mask, reports The Anchorage Daily News.
“It is unacceptable and we will not tolerate interference with the flight crew and the performance of their safety duties,”
The FAA is currently adopting a “zero tolerance” approach to misconduct: disobedient passengers face potential criminal charges, fines of up to $ 35,000, or lifelong bans on certain airlines.
Bad behavior seems to have an impact. Angela Hagedorn, a former flight attendant at Alaska Airlines, tweeted that she had recently resigned.
“It was a grueling time for all employees who are just trying to do their job according to their company’s policies,” she said. “Constant arguments and repulsions from guests are ridiculous.”
Sarah Nelson, president of the Flight Employees Association, said airline employees had reported a wide range of alarming incidents.
“What we saw on our planes was that the flight attendants were physically attacked, pushed out, strangled,” Nelson said. “We have a passenger urinate. We had a spitting passenger in the mouth of a child on board.
“These are some of the things we’ve dealt with,” Nelson said, adding that the physical and verbal violence the flight attendants have experienced this year is “far from the charts” compared to the last 20 years.
In the coming months, as parts of the United States begin to bounce off the pandemic and more people rise into the sky, the FAA – along with the Transportation Security Administration and Air Marshals – plans to keep a close eye on behavior that threatens crew members or passenger safety.
Daniel Arkin contributed.