WASHINGTON - In the wake of passenger and staff harassment on flights amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, members of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) testified Friday before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation to call on the increase in disruptive and unruly airline passengers, the causes, the effect on passenger and crew safety, and the enforcement of U.S. laws prohibiting such behavior.
The committee at the hearing titled, "Disruption in the Skies: The Surge in Air Rage and its Effects on Workers, Airlines, and Airports" heard from staff witnesses including the AFA’s International President Sara Nelson and a flight attendant at American Airlines Teddy Andrews.
"The disruptions in the cabin and failure to comply with crew instruction are a threat to the safety of flight," Nelson said at the hearing. "If we allow disruptions in the cabin or distractions due to defiance of passengers to comply with crew instructions to become a regular occurrence, we are in jeopardy of missing cues of a coordinated attack. We simply cannot allow this behavior to become commonplace for this reason alone. Every level of threat requires vigilance and scrutiny. We cannot be lulled into a place of accepting these distractions as a new normal."
Aircraft seating configuration on a passenger jet. (Photo by: Peter Titmus/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Since January, the Federal Aviation Administration has logged more than 4,300 unruly passenger reports, leading to more than $1 million in fines issued.
"At this point, I have lost count of the times I have been insulted or threatened on a flight simply for doing my job," Andrews said in the hearing, going on to describe an incident when he was called racial slurs by a passenger.
"I know I don’t deserve to be spoken to like this under any circumstance," Andrews continued. "These days I come to work expecting some form of disrespect or air rage. It feels like Flight Attendants have become the target for all kinds of frustrations that some people are feeling. Sometimes it happens when passengers disagree with airline or federal policies. At times passengers are emboldened by alcohol. But above all, everyday Flight Attendants are not being respected for the job we are here and trained to do."
Nelson noted a survey by the union which found over 85 percent of all respondents have dealt with unruly passengers in the first half of 2021.
This hearing also comes on the heels of Delta Air Lines’ announcement Thursday, banning more than 1,600 people on its "no fly" list, and urges other airlines to share their lists.
In an internal memo obtained and reviewed by FOX Television Stations, the company said it made its decision in an effort to keep crewmembers and customers safe.
"At Delta, we now have more than 1,600 people on our ‘no fly’ list, and we’ve submitted more than 600 banned names to the FAA in 2021 as part of their Special Emphasis Enforcement Program," Delta told all flight attendants Wednesday. "We’ve also asked other airlines to share their ‘no fly’ list to further protect airline employees across the industry – something we know is top of mind for you as well. A list of banned customers doesn’t work as well if that customer can fly with another airline."
Earlier this year, the FAA proposed civil penalties ranging from $7,500 to $15,500 against four airline passengers who allegedly interfered with flight attendants’ ability to do their jobs, despite being instructed to adhere to cabin policies and various other federal regulations.
Airlines reported about six incidents of disruptive passengers for every 10,000 flights last week, the FAA said. That is about the same as late June but down about half from February and March. It is more than twice as high as the rate of 2.45 incidents per 10,000 flights during the last three months of 2020.
FAA figures show that the spike began in late January, including several flights that were disrupted by people flying to a rally in Washington for then-President Donald Trump.
The AFA is the flight attendant union organized by flight attendants for flight attendants. According to the union, the AFA represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, "serving as a voice for flight attendants at their workplace, in the industry, in the media and on Capitol Hill."
This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed.