- Forget social distancing when boarding a domestic flight in the United States.
- Passengers objecting to current regulations and screaming out while on a flight may be prosecuted under the Partriot Act facing 20 years in federal prison.
- US flight attendants are being trained by the same people who train prison guards – not much of a de-escalation attempt.
The friendly skies in the United States may not at all be as friendly as they were in the good old PAN AM times.
Federal Air Marshals are teaching flight attendants how to deal with the growing risk of passengers who become belligerent and violent, often over face-mask rules.
Restrictions that are commonly enforced on international flights, including middle seats open, social distancing on airplanes, and vaccination rules, are not usually in force for US domestic flights.
Many domestic passengers in the United States refuse to follow the rules of mask-wearing due to political, religious, and some for health reasons. This is causing a great number of incidents, that are reported to the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA)
Flying in the age of COVID-19 is stressful for passengers and crew, and resulted in 3,199 mask-related incidents reported to the FAA. Considering only 4,385 unruly passenger reports were filed in a year, this is a very high number.
To get passengers under control, it’s been discussed in the House to punish passenger-related incidents at the same severity as hijacking. The Patriot Act was put in place in the United States in response to terror attacks, not in response to a complaining passenger. Violating the Patriot Act comes with a 20 year federal prison sentence.
Comment by FlyersRights.org to the House Aviation Subcommittee on the Increase in Number of Airline Incidents
The recent increase in violent incidents in air travel is a serious issue in need of solutions. The subcommittee hearing would benefit from hearing the passenger’s perspective. FlyersRights.org submitted a rulemaking petition to the Department of Transportation in August 2020 to mandate mask-wearing in air travel. FlyersRights.org has been the leading organization advocating for COVID mitigation measures to make air travel safer.
According to the latest FAA data, mask-related reported incidents account for 73% of all incidents reported by crewmembers in 2021. At the same time, non-mask-related incidents are down, and the FAA has more than doubled the number of its investigations. FlyersRights.org proposes the following solutions to reduce the number of mask-related disturbances on airplanes:
- Implement the yellow card system where a passenger is given a written warning and the ability to send a written complaint to the pilot or airline as means of de-escalation.
- Ensure flight attendants themselves comply with and more consistently enforce the mask rules.
- Allow greater ease of obtaining legitimate health and disability exceptions to the mask rule.
- Implement greater COVID mitigation measures, including social distancing and temperature checks. Social distancing must be enforced not only on the airplane, but at the gate, during the boarding process, and at security checkpoints.
- Reevaluate the TSA mask mandate extensions with a public notice and comment process.
The airlines have crammed passengers on a smaller number of flights with no social distancing, no middle seat blocking, no capacity limits, no temperature checking, and no COVID testing. While some passengers oppose masks for political reasons, others see the lack of other common-sense safety precautions taken by the airlines (social distancing, middle seat blocking, temperature checks) and the lack of consistent enforcement on passengers and flight attendants.
Prosecution for battery is needed when these incidents become violent. However, it would be a severe escalation and a gross infringement on civil liberties to invoke the Patriot Act’s felony “interference with flight crew members and flight attendants” intended for hijackers and to threaten a passenger with up to 20 years in prison.
FlyersRights.org has advocated for a mask rule as well as other health measures to protect passengers and crew members. While most flight attendants enforce the mask rule as best as they can under the circumstances, many flight attendants do not attempt enforcement and themselves violate the mask rule.
FlyersRights.org would not attribute the actions of a small minority of flight attendants to the entire group. However, just as enforcement action must be taken against passengers who refuse to wear a mask, action must be taken against these flight attendants who violate the mask rule or who make no effort to enforce the rule. Not only will this help curb the dozens of abhorrent passenger incidents, but it is also vital for the continued health of all passengers and flight crew throughout the pandemic.