CHICAGO — Airline workers are calling for more federal regulations to protect them amid an increase in unruly passengers and mistreatment on planes.
Stacy Bassford spent Thursday — her only day off this week — at Midway International Airport, 5700 S. Cicero Ave., with other flight attendants represented by the Transport Workers Union of America.
They passed out flyers to raise support for the Protection From Abusive Passengers Act, a proposed law introduced in the House of Representatives in April that would ban passengers from airline travel if they engage in abusive behavior toward airline employees.
“People are more stressed, they’re angrier, there’s more rules they don’t want to comply with, but I don’t think it can all be chalked up to the pandemic,” said Bassford, who’s been a flight attendant for 22 years. “I’ve been grabbed by irate passengers, I’ve been sexually assaulted on the plane, and these things predate the pandemic.”
In 2021, there were 5,981 reported incidents regarding unruly passengers and violence toward aviation workers, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. There have been more than 2,000 incidents reported in 2022.
In 2019, before the pandemic, the Federal Aviation Administration reported 183 investigations for unruly passengers. That spiked to 1,900 in 2021 and has stayed high in 2022, with 767 investigations so far.
Klarissa-Ann Principe, who’s been a flight attendant for nine years, said the increase in incidents has changed the way she approaches every interaction with passengers.
“There have been times where it’s just the simplest little instruction, like to fasten your seatbelt, that just sets somebody off and it escalates, so now it feels like we’re always preparing ourselves for the worst,” Principe said. “It’s a lot of added stress because you’re interacting with a lot of people every single day, so it wears you down.”
Union members also want lawmakers to create a Flight Attendants’ Bill of Rights to secure universal safety protocols, reporting guidelines for assaults and self-defense courses for all flight attendants.
These laws would require airlines to mount a more unified response to these attacks and prevent abusive passengers from avoiding repercussions by booking flights with a different airline, Bassford said.
The legislation would also provide flight attendants with more tools for de-escalating situations with aggressive passengers, Principe said.
“We’re in a hurtling metal tube 35,000 feet above the ground. It’s not like we can call the cops when somebody’s out of control and we need help,” Principe said. “We have to figure it out. So we need to have the proper repercussions for this type of behavior and tools to handle it.”
Principe asked people to contact local lawmakers to show support for legislation protecting airline workers to make the sky safer for everyone.
“If it’s easy for an assault to happen on an aircraft; that’s something passengers get roped into,” Principe said. “Children that are traveling see these things. We want elected officials to know that it’s important to us as flight attendants, but it’s important for the flying public, too, because it affects everyone.”
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