Commentary: Air Rage Relief
The next big air disaster could be caused by an out-of-control passenger. But the airlines refuse to face the problem.
- By Patricia Friend
- Air & Space magazine, September 2001
(Page 2 of 3)
For one thing, the airlines provide their flight attendants with little or no training for the problem, leaving them to figure out solutions at 30,000 feet. Last year, our organization, the Association of Flight Attendants, part of the AFL-CIO, surveyed our airline safety representatives and discovered that only three of the 17 believed that their flight attendants were adequately trained to deal with crew interference. And at the few airlines that do offer training, the lessons consist of a few pages in a manual or a ten-minute classroom presentation.
The result: Flight attendants are inadequately trained in even the fundamentals of conflict resolution, such as the most effective language to use to persuade an uncooperative passenger to obey safety instructions, or the best steps to take when a passenger appears to be intoxicated.
A few airlines—United, US Airways, Alaska Air, and Aloha—have come up with the idea of providing flight attendants with plastic handcuffs—but no proper training in how to use them. A flight attendant brandishing handcuffs would likely incite more violence in an already precarious situation. And a flight attendant with inadequate training and practice in how to use them could certainly precipitate a disaster.
Since 1996, AFA has been fighting to require that all flight attendants be trained in preventing and handling incidents of air rage. In response, the FAA took a small step in the right direction, issuing an advisory circular that suggests airlines establish policies and training for crew interference. But this was only a suggestion, and the airlines are free to ignore it. Our survey last year revealed that five out of 17 carriers still had no written policies on air rage.
Requiring appropriate flight attendant training is one part of a multi-faceted approach my organization advocates for dealing with the problem of air rage. We also believe that the FAA must direct the airlines to adopt zero-tolerance policies on crew interference so these incidents do not go unpunished. In addition, the agency must require airlines to report all incidents, and must enter every incident in a national database. With full reporting of the types, severity, and number of problems, airlines can provide realistic, hands-on training targeted at the most common and dangerous types of incidents.
Since alcohol is a factor in many air rage incidents, airlines must take over-consumption seriously and adopt responsible policies. Gate agents must be trained to recognize signs of intoxication and prevent drunk passengers from boarding. Airlines should end the practice of serving alcohol before takeoff, and should never use free alcohol as a way to compensate passengers for delays.
Other strategies, such as deducting frequent flier miles from passengers who become unruly, may not quell the inappropriate behavior up front, but could prevent repeat offenders from terrorizing more flights.
While these ideas may seem like common sense, the airlines take the position “The paying passenger is always right.”