No Excuse for Bad Behavior: A Case of Unruly Passengers
Vol.7 Issue 8

Could it be the stress of COVID? Is it the strain of having a mask mandate at airports and wearing them on all commercial flights? The Transportation Security Administration recently extended a federal requirement for all travelers to wear masks on planes, buses, and trains through January 2022. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) are continually reminding the traveling public that masks are required when using any form of public transportation while traveling into, within, or out of the United States.

Masks are also required in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. Mask rules are aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 as well as the Delta variant of the coronavirus. The goal is to protect the health and safety of all customers and employees. When people are packed together in small spaces, it could be the reason for an alarming rise in the spread of SARS-CoV-2, contributing to a more stressful environment for all.

Dangerous behavior doesn’t fly!

This past July, the FAA reported 150 cases of unruly passengers in just one week. This was the largest weekly surge during the summer. Such consequences add stress to the flight crew and flight attendants. A labor union survey shows that 84% of flight attendants have dealt with unruly passengers on board.

The FAA has a zero-tolerance policy toward passengers who cause disturbances on flights. Failing to obey the instructions from the flight crew is a violation of regulations. Since January there have been 3,889 reports of unruly behavior by passengers, including 2,867 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal mask mandate. The agency has proposed more $1M in fines.

Unruly Passenger Numbers reported as of August 23, 2021

In some of the cases, passengers are fined, charged with a felony and banned from ever flying again. Passengers are losing sight of the fact that flight attendants are not there to serve refreshments; their main purpose is safety. When a passenger’s behavior interferes with flight attendant duties it is a violation of federal law.

Research suggests that alcohol, drug use and mental illness are reasons for some passenger outbursts. FAA Administrator Steve Dickson states, "We will not tolerate interfering with a flight crew and the performance of their safety duties." In January 2021, Dickson signed an order that directs a stricter legal enforcement policy against unruly airline passengers in the wake of recent troubling incidents. Unfortunately, rage in the air is not new. Disruptive passengers became such an issue in 2007, that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) began tracking data.

Investigation into Unruly Passengers from 1995 to 2021

Flight attendants are now taking self-defense classes from the Transportation Security Administration’s Federal Air Marshals to better cope with physical confrontations. While the attendants hope they don’t ever have to use these techniques, their jobs are crucial in the first line of defense during flight.

The FAA created a Public Service Announcement to crack down on unruly passengers.

Humorous interior plane TV monitor message prohibiting passengers from rude and unruly behavior
Federal Aviation Aministration (FAA) seal