With flight disturbances at all-time high, TSA brings back self-defense training for flight attendants

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Flight attendants are learning to fight back against unruly passengers.

TSA is bringing back its self-defense training program geared for flight crew members.

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It comes at a time when passenger disturbances are at an all-time high.

Airlines have their own self-defense class, but flight attendants say this one is more in-depth. Union officials say all flight attendants should be required to take the TSA class every year.

The hands-on class is taught by federal air marshals. TSA had to stop it during the pandemic but plans to bring it back in July. The head of the Association of Flight Attendants union for Hawaiian Airlines says it couldn’t come at a better time.

“We definitely applaud the TSA for bringing the program back as the current environment that we’re dealing with right now has these incidents with unruly passengers at an all time high,” said Joni Kashiwai.

The FAA has recorded more than 3,000 cases of unruly passengers this year. Much of those are from travelers who don’t want to wear a mask. Some have escalated into violence. The classes are geared toward being able to react quickly in confined spaces.

“Like can I get a cart and block him with a cart?” said Jaci-Ann Chung of the Hawaiian Airlines Flight Attendants Union. “Or can I get a tray and jab it at him? Or can I get a pen and disarm him or slow him that way?”

The classes are usually four hours long, and they’re held in small groups. Chung says the lessons go beyond learning the physical moves. It’s also about being able to spot trouble before it starts.

“So when you’re boarding the aircraft, we’re scanning your bags,” said Chung. “We’re looking at passengers to see if there’s kind of any suspicious behavior. Even though we’re smiling and greeting you and sending you to your seat, it’s part of screening. It’s a safety aspect.”

Flight crews point out that a situation can spiral out of control quickly. So the training is an additional tool to keep themselves and the passengers safe. The classes are voluntary but the union would like to change that.

“We all need to take advantage of it,” said Kashiwai. “It would be great if we can get it mandated as part of our training, annual training.”

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