How Flight Attendants Deal with Unruly Passengers

unruly passengers on airline flights

How Flight Attendants Deal with Unruly Passengers

As flights have been ramping back up passengers are feeling frustrated by delayed flights, personnel shortages, and mask mandates, causing unruly passengers on flights to spike.

Airline companies are being pushed to find new solutions for flights to deal with unruly customers, as incidents of rowdy airline travelers have jumped to the highest reported cases ever.

In the first half of 2021, 3271 reports were made to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) pertaining to unruly passenger behavior. More than 2,475 travelers were disciplined for compliance issue because of refusing to wear masks. Many of those incidences were exacerbated by use of alcohol.

Flight attendants are asking passengers for patience as airlines are trying to manage the personnel shortages with what they have. However, unruly passengers on flights are becoming more of a problem as other travelers feel that airlines are not doing enough to ensure passenger safety and safety for the flight attendants.

So, in response to the consistent alarming rise of disruptive passengers, the Federal Aviation Administration enacted temporary "zero tolerance" policies to deal with these unruly passengers.

But the Airline Flight Attendants Association (AFA), which represents 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines across America, say it's not enough. The AFA wants the FAA and DOJ to do more to protect passengers and crew from verbally and/or physically abusive and disruptive travelers.

“If airlines want flight attendants to feel safe at work, real consequences need to be created so they don’t have to face disruptive passengers on a daily basis,” said an unnamed flight attendant.

The unruly passengers are causing additional chaos by delaying the flight with their behavior. In one effort to keep unruly airline travelers in line, carriers are using non-alcoholic beverages on flights as a solution. While airline travelers can still get their hands on alcohol and become intoxicated before boarding planes, it is a major step in curbing the undesired behavior on flights.

In addition, the increase in incidents that occur with aggressive airline travelers is causing flight attendants to be afraid of offending a passenger and getting hurt. Especially since the Southwest Airline attendant had her teeth knocked out a few months ago.

It is reported that the majority of flight attendants who filed incident reports with their management did not receive a follow-up, and in general, airline employees are not observing much effort by the airlines to address unruly passengers. 

Disruptive airline travelers should know that they can be charged with a crime for their behavior on flights. Passengers caught acting disorderly should also expect that they could spend some time in jail too.

Recently the FAA proposed civil penalties from $9,000 to $15,000 against five airline passengers. Two of those cases were passengers that allegedly assaulted flight attendants. 

On December 23, 2020, a Delta Air Lines flight from Honolulu to Seattle had the most dangerous incident. One of the passengers tried to open the cockpit door and was refusing crew members’ instructions. The passenger smacked one of the flight attendants in their face which led the passenger to being handcuffed with plastic handcuffs. At some point he freed himself and struck the same flight attendant again. After the plane landed, police escorted the passenger into custody, and he now faces a $52,500 fine.

A passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Sacramento refused to listen and comply with the instructions of the crew. His refusal was coupled with combative behavior, offensive language use, and an assault against a member of Southwest Airline staff. As he was being escorted off the plane he attempted to flee, and he hit another member with his bags exiting the plane.

Last week, passengers of Frontier Airlines flights experienced hours of waiting as the airline dealt with a staff shortage. Passengers then waited for hours for their luggage. These staff shortages are contributing to the many issues causing disgruntled passengers.

Flight attendants recognize several factors for the disruptive incidents, citing mask compliance as a leading cause for confrontation, followed by delays in the flight's departure, cancelation, routine safety reminders, not wearing a seatbelt, and alcohol.


What are the penalties for not wearing a mask on an airplane?

Federal laws make wearing a mask on commercial flights mandatory, noncompliance is punishable by a fine of $250 for the first offense and up to $1,500 for repeat offenses.


How do airliners handle disruptive passengers?

Flight attendants are trained in conflict management, and security uses multiple procedures to safely restrain unruly airline travelers and divert flights if needed.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and air carriers use a threat assessment model to evaluate unruly behavior. When evaluating the dangerousness of an individual, air carriers look at the offending air traveler's intentions, their ability to carry out the threat, and whether or not they present a risk of physical harm to others.

If air travelers are displaying danger signals for air travel such as violence or suicidal tendencies that behavior can be further evaluated by trained air marshals on board flight.

If you're disruptive on a flight the crew will ask you to change your behavior or risk being charged with a federal crime. If charged, in many cases if they are found guilty, they will have their flying privileges revoked by the FAA. This may be an inconvenience for them later in life if they need to fly as part of a job, or to visit family members living in different cities. Passengers caught acting disorderly should expect to spend time in jail in some cases and/or pay hefty fines.


What are the handling procedures for unruly passengers?

With many airlines taking swift actions like diverting flights and calling police on passengers that are causing disruptions and delays on flights it is a good idea to communicate any disruptive behavior to the pilot or flight attendants.

The pilot will be able to notify the airport staff or law enforcement officials, who can take immediate action. If you are not comfortable speaking to the pilot, inform a flight attendant.


Disruptive airline travelers affect all passengers on an airplane and can compromise safety in the air, they should expect their behavior will be investigated by local authorities after landing.