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 3 of 3)
It all comes down to money. One big reason airlines are in no hurry to give their flight attendants decent training in air rage management is the time and money such training would entail. And of course, the overbooking, cramped conditions, and stripped-down in-flight amenities and services are obvious results of the airlines’ determination to squeeze the maximum revenue out of every flight. Finally, airlines probably fear that taking a strong public stand against crew interference could cost them passengers, since some may interpret such a message as a sign that air travel is potentially dangerous.
But a strong stand must be taken. Both the airlines and the FAA need to get the word out that air rage is a felony, one with serious consequences. Just as security checkpoints display posters that warn against joking about terrorist acts, airlines need to provide passengers with written warnings about crew interference and the penalties against it; that can be done via safety cards in seat pockets, on ticket jackets, in in-flight magazines, and on posters and other displays in airports, especially situated near the bars, where some passengers spend time during delays and layovers. And the preflight safety briefing should include a warning to passengers that crew member interference is a crime.
On the ground, law enforcement officers must have a clear knowledge of how to handle unruly passengers once a flight is over. Confusion over jurisdictional issues has resulted in some perpetrators of air rage walking away free upon landing. A federal law was passed in April of last year authorizing a program to allow local law enforcement officials to be federally deputized to assist in these situations. But implementation has been spotty. Jurisdictional problems are also common on international flights. AFA is committed to addressing this issue on an international level, working with governing bodies like the International Civil Aviation Organization.
In April of last year, the Congress increased the civil penalty for interference with a flight crew. Air rage is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, and a civil penalty of up to $25,000. But imposing penalties after the fact is not enough. We must deter these acts, making everyone aware that the policy of both the airlines and the government is zero tolerance.
Take the example of a U.S. magistrate in New Mexico, who said as he arraigned a passenger accused of air rage, “You have absolutely no right to endanger anyone on an airplane.” The judge ordered the passenger to take a bus back to his home state of Florida to await his trial, adding, “…if you cause a ruckus on the bus, they’ll put you out in the desert.”
We need more judges like him. And we need more regulations to prevent air rage in the first place.
Patricia Friend is the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, the world's largest flight attendant union.