O check list for air travel for this year’s holiday season will be over. Comfortable, high-quality mask, hand sanitizer, early arrival at the airport, and easy-to-remove clothing, shoes, laptop and items for security control.
However, according to the flight attendants, pre-planning a trip may not prepare travelers for the reality of flying in 2021 – and we’re not just talking about Covid-19.
“You certainly must have watched news about passengers who are disruptive or cause conflicts aboard airlines this year,” he said. Sara nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants on 17 airlines.
“There have been more than 5,000 passenger disruptive reports sent to the Federal Aviation Administration since early 2021,” Nelson said. “There are more complaints in 2021 than the entire 31-year history of recording such behavior. And we haven’t even finished the year yet!”
A CNN talked with Nelson about what the flight attendants want us to know about inconvenient passengers before we board a plane to visit friends and relatives on this vacation.
CNN: FAA data shows that more than 70% of plane incidents were masks-themed. Why do you think this is happening?
Sara Nelson: First, it is very likely that many people are traveling for the first time since the start of the pandemic. And they forgot, or just don’t know, that air travel has a whole set of rules to keep everyone safe.
You have to go through security and practically undress to show you’re not a threat. You can’t smoke – we’ve been doing that for a long time. Everyone has to buckle up and put their seats and trays up.
They also have to wear a mask from the moment they step foot at the airport until they leave the next airport at the end of the trip. And by the way, this is no longer an airline policy, it’s been a federal requirement since February (in the US).
These federal rules are in place to ensure that we are keeping a safe space for everyone who is traveling, because not everyone can be vaccinated yet. And it’s very important that people understand why the rules are in place. That’s why I’m putting so much emphasis on it.
We’re really not going to be safe unless everyone follows the rules and we approach it in the spirit that we’re all in this together.
But there’s something bigger going on here. Many people are upset about the masks because they were considered a trigger point by many leaders.
I have been a flight attendant for 25 years, and throughout my career, when there was something going on socially or politically in this country, we see ramifications on planes. And that’s absolutely supercharged this year.
CNN: What effect do these incidents have on plane safety?
Nelson: This is affecting the ability of flight attendants to do their job. Before 9/11, we were the first to respond to safety and health emergencies on board. But after 9/11, we also became the last line of aviation security defense against terrorism.
These on-board disturbances that have been taking place are not only a threat to the crew and to you, the aviator, because of the possibility of people being directly injured in these violent explosions, but they also distract the flight crew. They are potentially putting us in a position of lack of clues to other threats, or bigger threats, like a coordinated attack.
This is something that people who wish to do us greater harm are also watching and asking themselves, “Is this a new tactic we can use to create a distraction?”
Well, I don’t want people to think about that when they’re flying to see their loved ones. I want to be very clear about this. That’s our job to identify these issues.
But I’m explaining why I want to make it clear why we take these incidents so seriously. We don’t want anyone to get hurt on board. But there is a bigger threat.
CNN: Are other passengers in danger when these disruptions occur?
Nelson: Possibly. You can be exposed to a direct fight or get beaten up by someone who is struggling. There are incidents where conflict and violence are transient. We’ve had a few cases where individuals ran into the cockpit. And this is a very serious concern.
Surely you can have your journey interrupted. When someone refuses to put on a mask or seatbelt, we won’t walk away from the gate if he refuses to cooperate. And if it’s in the air, and the conflict is bad enough, your flight could be diverted.
So you don’t want these things to happen on your plane because there’s a risk of getting hurt and there’s a risk of disrupting your trip, causing you to miss connections and family events.
Now, the conflict is not always about masks. Some of the more recent violent events had nothing to do with masks.
People are getting upset with any kind of safety instructions: “Put your tray up. Could you please bring your seat back so I don’t get on my knees behind you?” Any type of instruction.
Then put a layer of alcohol. People cannot drink their own alcoholic beverage on a flight or even at the airport. They are not allowed to serve themselves. And this is news to some people.
People don’t like to hear that they can’t drink alcohol. And the fact that they’ve been drinking also contributes to the act, because they do things they might not do if they weren’t drunk.
There are also issues of gender, race and homophobic slurs, which accompany interruptions in 61 percent of incidents, according to a survey of flight attendants.
CNN: What are the warning signs of such a situation and what do you advise people to do if one occurs during flight?
Nelson: Look for angry behavior such as people cursing. We had people who punched the backs of their seats or hit their own hands. Any kind of violent or threatening behavior and any kind of expletive is often a clue.
We recommend that you notify a flight attendant at the first sign of a problem so that we can try to alleviate the situation. We are trained and can guide others to help. Therefore, unless there is an imminent threat of personal injury, we strongly advise passengers not to take action on their own as they could inadvertently make the situation worse.
If you’re sitting next to the fight, don’t hit the flight attendant’s button, as this can pull you into the situation. If you can, get up and go into a kitchen and tell crew members, or try to carefully warn someone a few seats away to speak to the crew or press the call button.
Look around and see if you have people who can help, other witnesses. We really encourage people to be good witnesses.
CNN: What if you are traveling with children?
Nelson: The best thing to do would be to try to get out of the situation. This can be impossible because you are sitting and there is no getting around it. Move your child to the window or anywhere as far away from the action as possible. Try to cover your kids and ask for help.
But I want to emphasize that these incidents are taking place with a relatively small group of people. And most passengers respond to the tone that is given on board or at the airport, so I say that you need to take a few minutes to talk with your family and think about bringing kindness and patience to a trip.
If you are being a good witness, being attentive and looking to be a helper, this will create a tone that will help make your experience much better.
I also want to emphasize that we are not willing to accept this as the new normal. We continue to work with airlines, airports and the federal government. One of the things that was very, very important is that the US Department of Justice started publicly prosecuting.
And once people realize that there are serious consequences, we hope this will help them understand that you don’t act in an airport or on a plane.
*Translated material. Read the English version here.
Reference: CNN Brasil