By Jessica Meditz
Last week, flight attendants from around the country gathered at one of the top destinations, John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, to educate fellow workers and passengers about airline assaults.
Transport Workers Union’s “Assault Won’t Fly” campaign was launched in response to a drastic rise in assaults by unruly passengers during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has recently been fueled more by increasing flight delays and cancellations.
This outreach was conducted in preparation for Labor Day weekend, a time where airline workers see increased amounts of travelers — opening the door for higher tensions.
In fact, the New York Post reported that on Sunday, hundreds of flights in and out of the U.S. were delayed and dozens more canceled.
“We’re worried about Labor Day weekend, but we’re really worried about any time where there’s going to be increased travel,” said Thom McDaniel, a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines and TWU International Vice President.
“We’ve seen that people will go after whoever’s in front of them. It is against the law to interfere with a crew member’s duties, but it’s seldom enforced,” he continued.
McDaniel said that in 2021, there was a stark increase in airline assaults with nearly 6,000 assaults. Only 1,300 of those were taken through and prosecuted.
“This year, there’s still been over 1,800 assaults, and this is without a mask mandate,” he said. “They were happening before, they’re happening after…the law has always been there, but no one’s ever enforced it. The extent of it has been that you take someone off the plane, just so that they can walk across the hall and get on another plane.”
TWU supports the Protection from Abusive Passengers Act – legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this April to ban abusive airline passengers from flying.
The union continues to call on politicians to enact the first-ever Flight Attendants Bill of Rights to secure universal safety protocols, reporting guidelines for assaults and self-defense courses for all flight attendants.
“We don’t even get self defense courses every year,” said Raychel Armstrong, a flight attendant for Allegiant Air. “The last time I was fully trained was 11 years ago. I want to be able to defend myself against someone that’s trying to assault me sexually, or even threatening my life, but most of the time we’re just out of luck.”
Armstrong said that because her line of work is female-dominated, she and her colleagues are often questioned whether or not they are exaggerating what they go through.
“A lot of the people who are assaulted won’t speak out about it because they’re so embarrassed,” she said. “We are trained to be empathetic and understanding, and that is also used against us. I would constantly question the legitimacy of my own experience. A lot of times, they take the passenger’s side.”
Armstrong said that not only are unruly passengers a threat to airline workers, but passenger on passenger violence is also common.
For this reason, TWU encourages folks to be vocal about the presence of airline assaults, write to legislators to co-sign the Protection from Abusive Passengers Act and of course, be kind to your flight attendants.