Just since January of this year, the Federal Aviation Administration has received 2,500 reports of unruly behavior by airplane passengers—a number that one FAA spokesperson said was “significantly higher” than in past years. Most of the incidents involve passengers refusing to wear their masks in compliance with the federal mask mandate, and flight attendants are often responsible for dealing with these at-best disruptive and at-worse violent travelers.
Insider spoke to seven flight attendants across several major U.S. carriers, all of whom said their mental health had suffered as a result of the increased passenger aggression. One L.A.-based flight attendant with nearly three decades of experience on the job said that the current level of disruptive and aggressive behavior was “truly unprecedented.” Another flight attendant based out of New York City said that she’s now constantly worried while on the job that she’ll have to deal with violent passengers while in the air. “Since we’re in a plane up in the sky it’s really scary to feel like you don’t have control of the situation,” she explained.
Flight attendants told Insider that alcohol was often involved in the most violent and aggressive of these passenger altercations, which has led some airlines to limit their offerings to beer and wine, and others to stop serving alcohol entirely for the time being. “When we have problems that escalate, they would be escalated ten times more if they were fueled by alcohol,” a flight attendant told Insider. However, these incidents of “unruly” passenger behavior have also occurred when the traveler was “stone cold sober,” said Colleen Burns, a representative with the Association of Flight Attendants union.
In recent months, the FAA has gotten more serious about addressing passenger misconduct on flights. In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced over $100,000 worth of fines for four airline passengers who were accused of “interfering with and in one case, assaulting” flight attendants. “There are still federal regulations that require a mask to be worn at all times on our aircraft,” Daz, a Dallas-based flight attendant, told Insider. “Until this is lifted, please just follow the rules.”