Since the pandemic hit, airlines have dealt with enormous challenges, and through their hard work and focus on following the science, they now provide the safest flying environment possible. This week, unfortunately, some of their passengers significantly contributed to crew and other passengers feeling themselves at risk, and not just from the coronavirus.
The airlines and the presidents of both of the major flight attendant unions, together representing some 75,000 individuals working for United, Alaska, American and other airlines, expressed concerns about in-flight security after the events in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday as participants in the riots prepared to fly home. These concerns arose not just from what occurred at the Capitol that day but were also based on behavior that occurred on flights bringing participants into Washington on the days prior to that awful day.
In a statement from Julie Hedrick, the national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, she gave examples of some of those incidents:
“We . . . experienced multiple incidents on various flights headed to Washington, D.C. During these incidents, . . . Flight Attendants were forced to confront passengers exhibiting politically motivated aggression towards other passengers and crew. . . .
It is disturbing to see these acts of aggression towards other passengers and flight attendants continue. Yesterday, racial epithets were hurled towards a Black Flight Attendant as they rode to the DCA airport in the hotel shuttle. On another flight, a group of passengers removed their masks after takeoff and harassed the flight attendants and other passengers throughout the flight, up to and including the deplaning process. These are just two examples of too many we have seen on flights this week. . . .
We should not have to deal with a group of passengers harassing other passengers and crew, whether through chanting, yelling, or physical altercation. We see compliance on the ground, but after takeoff, the story sometimes changes.
To say I am worried about our flight attendants’ safety is an understatement.”
Several news outlets also reported that Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney was harassed in the airport in Salt Lake and as he boarded his Delta flight to D.C. on Tuesday night with shouts of “Traitor!” and other heckling before crew quelled the outbursts. A flight from Dallas to Washington also saw shouting matches break out between Trump supporters and other passengers as flight attendants had to repeatedly request some standing in the aisles return to their seats.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA expressed concern and dismay at such acts: “The mob mentality behavior that took place on several flights to the D.C. area yesterday was unacceptable and threatened the safety and security of every single person on board.” She expressed the belief that any of those involved in the riot on Capitol Hill should be barred from commercial flights, as did Bennie Thompson, Democratic chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He urged the TSA and the FBI to add all those identified as having entered the Capitol building to be added to a no-fly list.
Spokesperson for the APFA Paul Hartshorn, Jr. acknowledged that identifying all such individuals would be extremely difficult, while Nelson called on airlines to coordinate with government agencies like the TSA and FAA along with law enforcement to “ensure the safety and security of passengers and crew by keeping all problems on the ground.” Julie Hedrick of the APFA concluded her remarks with a plea: “This is not who we are as Americans. The abuse, divisiveness, anger, and harassment must stop.”
On Thursday night, 14 passengers on an Alaska Airlines flight from Washington, D.C., to Seattle found out that the airline is determined to keep its flights safe for passengers and crew. Added to a list of 288 individuals who have been banned from the airline since August of 2020 for not complying with mask requirements, this group was cited as “non-mask compliant, rowdy, argumentative, and [they] harassed our crew members.”
Have you witnessed behavior on flights that made you feel unsafe, uneasy or threatened? How do you feel these individuals should be dealt with?
— Patty Vanikiotis, associate editor/copy editor
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