Flight attendants union: ‘This has been the worst year for unruly passengers’

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — The FAA implemented a zero-tolerance policy on unruly airline passengers in January. However, 2021 has shaped up to be the worst for incidents in the air. Flight attendants said, instead of civil fines, more violators should be criminally prosecuted.

The incidents, also known as air rage, have happened so often that Congress had a hearing on it Thursday, Sept. 23. Lawmakers were told more than 4,000 cases have been reported to the FAA in 2021 so far.

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“This has been the worst year for unruly passengers in what’s looking like the history of aviation,” said Taylor Garland, spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA).

Nearly three out of four incidents involved passengers who did not want to wear their masks properly. AFA said the Department of Justice needs to step up enforcement by prosecuting violators when violence is involved. Most offenders are forced to pay a fine.

“We’ve only seen the Department of Justice prosecute one case of the more than 4,000 cases that have been reported to the FAA. We need more criminal action, and we think, with that, there will be more sobering up of passengers around the country,” said Garland.

U.S. Congressman Kaialiʻi Kahele agreed with that idea and added that there should be a ‘no-fly list’ for unruly passengers.

“We need the airlines to get together when someone is banned from flying on an airline. There should be a database so that all other airlines know,” said Kahele.

Garland said part of the problem is passengers being allowed to buy alcohol to-go from airport bars.

“And so we’ve called on airports and the federal government stop the sale of to-go alcohol at airports. We think that’s a low-hanging fruit, and the first step that can be taken,” Garland said.

Kahele added that the federal government can also cut funding at airports that continue to sell alcohol to-go.

“We need to do that because alcohol leads to air rage in many cases. Those cases are surging like we discussed in today’s hearing, and if they continue at this rate, many more incidents can be expected in 2021,” Kahele explained.

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“This is unacceptable behavior. Flight attendants are on board for everyone’s safety. We are aviation first responders, not a punching bag for a passenger who is having a bad day,” said Garland.

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