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Reports of unruly air passenger behavior skyrocket during pandemic

Posted at 12:43 PM, May 19, 2021

This week, the FAA announced it is fining a passenger more than $50,000 for trying to open a cockpit door and then hitting a flight attendant in the face during a flight in December.

As more people start to board planes again, a new trend has started to show itself: unruly behavior by airline passengers.

The FAA says during the pandemic, reports of combatant passengers on flights skyrocketed.

In a typical year, the FAA says it sees between 100 and 150 formal cases of unruly passenger behavior. In the first five months of this year, the agency says it has received more than 1,300 reported cases.

“I would say that I definitely saw the glass as more of ¾ full, not even half full [at the start of my career],” said Mitra Amirzadeh, a flight attendant for one of our country’s major airlines. “And nowadays, I think I see it for what it really is.”

Amirzadeh has worked for her company for six years and says the last year has brought tension and frustration.

“I mean, one guy was punched in the head that I know. Who does that? Who just walks up and hits somebody and walks off, but it happened to him,” she said.

Most of the incidents, she says, have revolved around the CDC’s mandate that anyone flying must wear a mask on board the airplane.

“It’s been this constant toll… of turmoil and conflict,” said Sara Nelson, International President for the Association of Flight Attendants. “It’s not the job that we know, and many people have said they just can’t do it anymore. It’s not who they are. It’s not what they signed up for.”

The FAA says of those 1,300 cases it is still reviewing, it has identified potential violations in at least 260 cases and has taken legal action, which can include criminal charges, in more than 20 cases.

“I’ve heard from a lot of my flying partners who have said this is not the job they remember. They don’t recognize it, and they can’t take it anymore,” said Nelson.

The FAA has announced it is now taking a zero-tolerance approach to this behavior, saying potential criminal charges, fines up to $35,000 per incident, and potential lifetime bans on certain airlines can accompany incidents of unruly behavior.