Should We Expect More In-Flight Chaos?

We’re all excited to get back on planes and travel post-pandemic, but it seems that flying is more stressful and more turbulent than ever. What should be an outpouring of gratitude has turned into an increase of unruly passengers.

Let’s review a brief timeline of 2021 alone:

·      January 13 – FAA Administrator Steve Dickson signs a zero-tolerance order for harsher penalties against unruly passengers

·      May 17 – The FAA issues a record-breaking fine of $52,000 to a Delta passenger who allegedly attempted to open the cockpit door while in flight, hitting a flight attendant, wiggling out of handcuffs, and hitting the same flight attendant again

·      May 23 – A Southwest passenger assaults a flight attendant, knocking out two of her teeth

·      July 31 – A passenger onboard Frontier Airlines flight 2289 verbally, physically, and sexually assaults three flight attendants; the passenger is duct-taped to his seat for the remainder of the flight

·      August 10 – A 13-year-old teen on American Airlines flight AA212 is duct-taped to his seat after fighting with his mom and refusing to calm down; the plane has to be diverted for an emergency landing

·      August 13 – United Airlines issues a memo stating that their in-flight crew should never use duct tape to restrain a passenger; if flight attendants can’t deescalate a situation, there are specific tools for them to use to restrain passengers that are less… sticky

Between blatantly ignoring the mask mandate, attempting to drink their own alcohol on flights, or assaulting flight attendants, passengers are not exactly practicing their best Jetiquette. And if there was ever a time for an increase in Jetiquette, it’s now.

Flight attendants are risking their health to passengers feel safe on the plane. They work tirelessly to give passengers everything they need, yet there are passengers who think it’s a good idea to get drunk, rip their masks off, and start throwing hands while the plane is in the air. Or maybe they get drunk on alcohol they didn’t buy on their flight and then think it’s a good idea to fight a flight attendant.

Either way, we guarantee it’s a bad idea.

Of course, the idea of having a person duct-taped to their seat seems inhumane when you take it out of context. And yes, there are probably better methods of restraining a person than with duct tape. But flight attendants are trained to deescalate a situation. Restraints are meant to be a last resort when there is no other option.

If someone came into your place of work and started verbally abusing your coworker Betty, hitting your manager Michael, and groping your colleague Sheila, you’d call the cops and have them taken out of the building. But when you’re in the air, you can’t just call 911. So what are flight attendants supposed to do? Let the unruly passenger continue to endanger their wellbeing and the safety of the other passengers?

The heart of the issue shouldn’t be whether flight attendants should be allowed to restrain unruly passengers; the problem is that there are unruly passengers to begin with.

Keeping your mask on for a long flight stinks. Having to pay $13 for a tiny bottle of alcohol when you could buy a nip at a liquor store and pack it in your carry-on seems silly. But there’s a reason these rules are in place, and the reason is to keep you and the other passengers on a flight safe.

The bottom line? Don’t book a flight if you don’t think you can practice your best Jetiquette. 

The chances of you getting restrained on a flight are slim to none as long as you don’t act like a jerk. Remember that your flight attendants are people too, and if they ask you to do something, just do it. After all, they’re just trying to keep you safe.

Warning: The FAA is stepping up their follow-through on fines and prosecution. Unruly passengers may be fined up to $37,000 per occurrence.


Gailen David
Gailen is an air-travel enthusiast and historian.

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