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'We’re the punching bags for the public' | Flight attendants facing abuse, violent attacks by passengers

The FAA noted a significant uptick in the number of incidents reported on planes involving passengers and flight attendants.


The friendly skies haven’t been that friendly for flight attendants charged with ensuring the safety of passengers.  

Viral videos on social media, namely Twitter, show what the uniformed group of professionals is up against these days, including one such video showing a flight attendant being punched in the face. Others show flight attendants getting yelled at by passengers.  

“We’re the punching bags for the public,” Sara Nelson, the international president for the Association of Flight  Attendants, said. “It’s been very, very difficult and flight attendants are trying to survive. We’re all so used to the fact that aviation is something that connects all of us, not something that divides us.” 

The biggest culprit to the growing anxiety among passengers is the federal mask mandate which was extended by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) until Sept. 13, 2021. The mandate, according to TSA, will help to minimize the spread of COVID-19.  

“The mask policies are in place to make sure that aviation and transportation is not helping to aid the continued spread of the pandemic but helping to end it,” Nelson said. 

Things have gotten so bad the Association of Flight Attendants, along with several other unions representing flight attendants, sent a letter to the Department of Justice in June seeking help and asking for the criminal enforcement of unruly passengers.  

RELATED: Southwest Airlines bans woman accused of punching flight attendant

Credit: WUSA 9

“We want to make sure criminal law enforcement across the country is making sure that passengers know, and they are handling this the same way across the country at our airports to keep out passengers and our flight attendants safe,” said Paul Hartshorn, a spokesperson for the Professional Association of Flight Attendants.  

The Department of Justice has yet to formally respond to the union’s request, but union leaders told WUSA 9 they are attempting to work with their partners on Capitol Hill to figure out a solution.  

This year alone, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has received more than 3,000 reports of unruly behavior by passengers in the United States. This includes 2,475 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal face mask mandate. 

These attacks have taken both a physical and mental toll on flight attendants. According to Nelson, the demand in the union’s Employee Assistance Program, which provides mental health resources to flight attendants, has dramatically increased in 2021 compared to 2020.  

“So, this has been a difficult time,” Nelson said passionately.  

Union representatives are also asking the public to get involved to help quell confrontations on planes. Nelson said passengers can provide support to flight attendants by monitoring, documenting and responding to incidents if they arise. 

“We all have to work a lot harder to understand one another, to hear one another and to help each other get what we need," Nelson said. 

RELATED: VERIFY: Yes, federal mask mandates apply in airports regardless of state laws

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