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Flight attendants ‘fear for their safety’ amid spike in disruptive passengers

The frequency has led some in the media to refer to the disruptive outbursts and violent behaviour as a ‘new normal….’”

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An airplane takes off. Stock image (Deposit)

An airplane takes off. Stock image (Deposit)

An airplane takes off. Stock image (Deposit)

Airline cabin crew are becoming increasingly concerned for their safety as a result of a spike in violence and disruption caused by passengers.

A number of reports have emerged over recent weeks of out-of-control and violent passengers during the busiest time for the aviation sector since before the pandemic. 

This summer has also seen near-constant reports of airport shambles, workers’ strikes amid staff shortages – following mass redundancies during the pandemic, and fed-up passengers suffering from delays, cancellations and lost baggage.

The chaos has become so bad that one flight attendant said she changes out of her uniform as soon as work is over because she fears for her safety if recognised as cabin crew.

The anonymous staff member of an international airline wrote about her experience in an op-ed for The Guardian.

Writing under the pen name Meryl Love, the airline staffer said many passengers are “furious” about the disruption caused to their travel plans, and that she often bears the brunt of their frustration.

She wrote: “He recounts a litany of offences committed by the airline: lost bags and prams, delayed flights, a night at the airport, all while jabbing a finger at me like I was the mastermind who’d planned and orchestrated the whole thing.

“It always amuses me when people talk to me as if I were the chief executive: ‘Your company is a disgrace, how dare you treat people like this.’

“I wish, buddy. I wish. I’m just a very minor player on a very minor salary, but it’s part of my job to take it, so I do.”

She adds: “As soon as I’m out of the security turnstiles, I take my uniform off.

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“I used to leave it on for the way home but now, if you’re anywhere in the vicinity of the airport, you’re an unofficial public relations rep for the whole airline industry. I sit on the tube and hope no one recognises me from the flight.”

Over recent weeks, there have been numerous reports of passenger violence and harassment often fuelled by alcohol.

On Tuesday, a Virgin Atlantic plane from Heathrow bound for Los Angeles had to make an emergency stop in Salt Lake City because a British man was reportedly drunk and tried to “kick out the windows”.

Last week, a man on a Delta flight from LA to Orlando was accused of groping a teenage girl after reportedly mixing sleeping pills and alcohol.

Meanwhile a fortnight ago, a Brazilian man was arrested on board a Delta flight from São Paulo to New York after assaulting a flight attendant and a passenger.

At the start of this month, an American man even admitted to leaping onto an airline drinks trolley mid-flight, before stripping off his clothes in the aisle of the plane, which was forced to divert from Seattle to Charlotte in North Carolina due to the chaos.

Some cabin crew have chosen to skip work because they fear being trapped in the air with out-of-control passengers.

George Connelly, a flight attendant with Spirit Airlines, told Insider: “As a collective we’re voluntarily dropping shifts, not coming to work, because we just don’t wanna deal with any of that stuff.

“[This] actually compounds the problem because now they’re having to call reserve crew members who may take two, three hours to get to the airport.”

According to US trade union the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), there was an unprecedented rise in disruptive passenger behaviour in 2021, which is when many pandemic travel restrictions were lifted around the world.

This travel boom has coincided with a shortage of airline and airport staff, leading to more chaos.

In November 2021, the union’s president Sara Nelson told a Homeland Security transportation hearing: “Flight attendants wonder every morning they put on their uniform whether [they will have] a sign of leadership and authority in the cabin to keep everyone safe, or [be] a target for a violent attack.”

In AFA’s internal survey of 5,000 flight attendants, 85 per cent of respondents said they had dealt with “unruly passengers” in the first six months of 2021.

Ms Nelson said: “While the number of bad actors is relatively small, the incidents of disruptions have been so pervasive.

“The frequency of events [has] led some in the media to refer to the disruptive outbursts and violent behaviour as a ‘new normal.’

“That is something we simply cannot accept for our safety and security.”


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