Flight Attendants and Airport Agents Face Safety Threat from Unruly Airline Passengers

A new national survey of nearly 5,000 Flight Attendants released last week by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, found that over 85 percent of all respondents had dealt with unruly passengers as air travel picked up in the first half of 2021. More than half (58%) had experienced at least five incidents this year. A shocking 17 percent reported experiencing a physical incident.

Airport agents are also facing increased hostility and violence from passengers. CWA member Stella Yoon, an American Airlines agent stationed at Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport for the past four years, says she has seen it all. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Stella says she sometimes encountered rude passengers who said unkind things to agents who were simply doing their jobs. But in recent months she and her co-workers have faced out-of-control customers on a daily basis. "It’s at another level now. It’s flat-out abusive and unacceptable," she said.

Often these passengers face few consequences.

Earlier this summer, a passenger physically assaulted three Piedmont employees at Charlotte Douglas International airport. The incident was recorded on camera, but the charges were later dropped by prosecutors who cited a backlog of cases due to COVID-19. As a Flight Attendant who participated in the survey wrote, “We tell them [passengers] that it is a federal offense to not comply with crew member instructions, use foul and/or threatening language onboard, and then the plane is met by airline supervisors or airport law enforcement and the passenger gets a slap on the wrist and sent on their way.”

CWA is calling for stricter enforcement of federal laws that protect airline workers.