If you’re flying over the holiday weekend, pack your mask, your patience and do not pack any booze.
That is the message from flight attendants, airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration, as the industry grapples with a record number of unruly passengers. Most of the complaints are related to people refusing to wear masks or being intoxicated.
There is a federal mandate for air travelers through January 2022 requiring people to wear masks on airplanes and at airports.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, says she’s constantly hearing stories from her members.
Nelson says flight attendants report being spit on, hit, screamed at, often when they are giving instructions to abide by the mask mandate.
“How do you put your uniform on and know you are the target?” she asks.
The Federal Aviation Administration reports there have been 4,090 unruly passenger complaints this year, a number that far exceeds the typical 150 complaints each year. Federal data shows mask-related incidents make up 2,999 of the incidents reported since the beginning of 2021.
The FAA has adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy, handing out more than a million dollars in fines and airlines have banned thousands of passengers.
Now the agency is asking local police departments to help by filing criminal charges.
In a letter to airport leaders this month, FAA administrator Steve Dickson writes that many of these passengers are interviewed and released “without criminal charges of any kind,” missing what he describes as a “key opportunity” to hold “unruly passengers accountable”.
Los Angeles Airport police have arrested a handful of people for refusing to wear a mask, creating a disturbance or fighting since last October.
An LAX spokesperson tells the I-Team “it is up to police to determine whether any laws have been violated and to take appropriate action, and we have confidence in our police force to do that.”
In an emailed statement to the I-Team, Ed Skvarna, police chief at Hollywood Burbank Airport, says if officers don’t witness an incident, or the FBI declines to take the case for federal prosecution, then under state law, they can’t do much more than ask the victim to make a citizen’s arrest.
“Frequently flight crewmembers are not interested in making a citizens arrest as it may delay the timely departure of the aircraft that they are operating,” Chief Skvarna wrote.
“Since this issue became a topic of media interest we have not experienced any incidents that rose to the level of arrest,” he added.
Nelson says her union is working with airlines on a program that could help coordinate federal and local enforcement responses to unruly passenger complaints. Nelson also says the support from the public is appreciated by all the flight attendants.
Source: NBC Los Angeles