Buckle your seat belts, folks — things are starting to get bumpy in the skies.
Over the weekend, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant was assaulted by a passenger and lost two teeth in the exchange. On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued more fines to passengers for disrupting flights, further magnifying the agency’s concern about unruly behavior aboard planes being at an all-time high.
"This past weekend, one of our flight attendants was seriously assaulted, resulting in injuries to the face and a loss of two teeth,'' Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556 — the Southwest Airlines flight attendants union — said in a letter to Southwest brass. "Unfortunately, this is just one of many occurrences. I write to you today because we cannot tolerate our beloved cohearts (being abused in such a manner, and because I am asking for your help and leadership in ending these travesties.''
Union seeks firmer rules and guidance
The incident that crossed the line for the union happened on a flight from Sacramento to San Diego, California this past Sunday morning.
"The passenger repeatedly ignored standard in-flight instructions and became verbally and physically abusive upon landing,'' a Southwest spokesperson told ConsumerAffairs. "Law enforcement officials were requested to meet the flight upon arrival, and the passenger was taken into custody. We do not condone or tolerate verbal or physical abuse of our flight crews, who are responsible for the safety of our passengers. ''
The Southwest flight attendants union is seeking several protections from the airline, including what Montgomery termed as a “new level of firmness in both tone and direction to ensure proper control in the cabin,” Montgomery said in her letter.
Montgomery said there have been 477 passenger misconduct incidents on Southwest flights in a five-week period. To her, that’s beyond acceptable. "This unprecedented number of incidents has reached an intolerable level, with passenger noncompliance events also becoming more aggressive in nature,'' she wrote.
Behavior worsens nationally on flights
Since the beginning of 2021, the FAA has received approximately 2,500 reports of unruly behavior by passengers. Now, for the second time in less than a month, the FAA has handed out fines related to its zero-tolerance policy for unruly and dangerous behavior by passengers.
The penalties the agency imposed ranged from $9,000 to $15,000 and were levied against five airline passengers for allegedly interfering with — and, in two cases — actually assaulting flight attendants who instructed them to obey cabin crew instructions and federal regulations.
Three of the incidents happened on JetBlue flights, one on a Southwest flight, and one on an Alaska Airlines flight.
One of the JetBlue incidents that wound up as a $15,000 fine against a passenger happened on a flight from Miami to Los Angeles. The passenger, who was seated in the main cabin, was apparently getting champagne and food passed to her from another passenger from the first-class section. A flight attendant said no more to that and carried them back to the first-class section. Unfortunately, things got uglier from there.
The main-cabin passenger started shouting obscenities at the flight attendant and followed them to the first-class section. They then assaulted the flight attendant and almost pushed them into the lavatory. The captain diverted the plane to Austin so that the main-cabin passenger could be removed from the aircraft.
You still have to wear a mask while flying
Other incidents involve passengers not wanting to comply with the federal mask mandate. Since the beginning of the year, the FAA has filed about 1,900 reports involving face masks.
Yes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has loosened its policies on face masks, but that does not yet apply to public transportation.
The CDC, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) continue to remind travelers that they are still required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the U.S. They also must mask up in U.S. transportation hubs like airports and stations.