A survey of nearly 5,000 flight attendants found 85% had dealt with unruly passengers in the first half of this year.
According to the Association of Flight Attendants union survey, 17% reported a physical incident and 58% had at least five confrontations with passengers.
Mask compliance is the biggest contributor, but alcohol, flight delays and cancellations are also driving the incidents, according to the union.
Airlines, including Atlanta-based Delta, have put hundreds of passengers on their no-fly lists for refusal to comply with mask requirements.
In one incident in December, a passenger tried to open the cockpit door on a Delta flight from Honolulu to Seattle and struck a flight attendant twice The FAA proposed a $52,500 fine against the passenger. In another incident that recently occurred, an unruly passenger — a flight attendant on inactive status — caused a Delta plane to divert.
More than 3,000 unruly passenger incidents have been reported so far this year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA in January put in place a more stringent policy for disruptive passengers and has started 610 investigations into unruly passenger incidents reported by airline crews this year, up from 183 last year and 146 in 2019.
Delta says it may terminate passengers’ SkyMiles frequent flier memberships “on the basis of documented abusive behavior” — personal threats, excessive obscene or profane language and insults or slurs directed at an airline employee, or intentional destruction of Delta property. Those passengers won’t be allowed to open new accounts.
“The vitriol, verbal and physical abuse from a small group of passengers is completely out of control,” Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson said in a written statement. She said the problems are exacerbated by staff shortages in airports that can make the airport experience more frustrating for travelers.
According to the union, one flight attendant responding to the survey said: “I’ve been yelled at, cursed at and threatened countless times in the last year.” Some flight attendants reported incidents of “shoving, kicking seats, throwing trash at flight crew defiling the restroom in response to crewmember instructions, and following flight crew through the airport to continue yelling and harassment,” according to the union.
Nelson said the atmosphere is “increasingly hostile.”