A survey released this week revealed that 84 per cent of US flight attendants have handled at least one case of unruly passengers this year, as reports of abuse continue to spike with increased mask mandates.
The Association of Flight Attendants surveyed almost 5,000 staff from 25 June to 14 July, and found that 84 per cent of cabin crew reported they were cursed at, yelled at, and some even followed and harassed back to the airport.
Further, the union stated 17 per cent of flight attendants who completed the survey reported “experiencing a physical incident”.
Flight attendants from United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Spirit Airlines and other smaller US carriers are represented by the union.
“This survey confirms what we all know, the vitriol, verbal and physical abuse from a small group of passengers is completely out of control, and is putting other passengers and flight crew at risk,” president Sara Nelson said in a statement.
She said more people “need some sobering up” and again called for the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to make its “zero tolerance” policy permanent, warning passengers of jail time for unruly behaviour onboard.
This year-to-date alone, 3,615 reports of unruly passengers have been made to the FAA, and over half are related to mask mandates.
Despite these high numbers, only 610 were further investigated and 95 initiated law enforcement, according to the FAA.
During the whole of 2019, before the COVID pandemic, only 146 unruly passengers were investigated further.
The Transportation Security Administration in April extended the mandatory mask mandate on aircraft until 14 September.
This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also stated that vaccinated passengers are also required to wear masks indoors due to the fast-spreading Delta variant.
Cases of unruly passengers continue to ramp up, and airlines are demanding for tighter policies to be implemented above the fines.
In June, airlines, trade organisations and unions wrote an open letter to the US Department of Justice calling on it to commit to full public prosecution against violent passengers.
This was not long after American and Southwest airlines extended an alcohol ban after a passenger on a Southwest flight from Sacramento brutally injured a crew member and a customer.
The FAA can propose fines of up to US$37,000 per violation, according to the FAA Reauthorization Bill, up from the previous maximum fine of US$25,000, in light of increasing reports of abuse against cabin crew.
On Monday, American Airlines changed its captain’s boarding announcement speech to include a reminder of tolerable passenger behaviour.
“Remember that the consumption of personal alcohol brought onboard flights is against federal regulations and is strictly prohibited,” briefed a staff email, seen by CNBC.