Flight attendants take self-defense classes to handle unruly passengers as airplane cabins see more chaos
With pandemic stress frazzling the nerves of COVID anxious travelers, there is a renewed sense of importance among flight attendants to learn how to protect themselves.
"It's getting crazy out there lately. So it's better to know what to do to defend ourselves against any sort of attacks," one flight attendant told CBS News.
The air marshals in the New York field office say a post 9/11 self-defense program that had been on hiatus during the pandemic returned last month with a renewed sense of urgency.
"We've had great demand since we've reintroduced the classes," said Stephanie Metzer who manages the field office.
This year, airplane cabins have seen chaos. A Frontier Airlines passenger was taped to his seat after he allegedly groped and assaulted flight attendants during a Miami-bound flight from Philadelphia in August. He was wrapped with tape around his mouth and body and was eventually charged with battery.
More than half of the $1 million in fines that the FAA has issued have come from this summer alone. The largest is a $45,000 fine for a Jet Blue passenger who allegedly threw his luggage at other passengers, got on the floor in the aisle and put his head up a flight attendants' skirt during a May 24 JetBlue flight from New York City to Orlando, Florida. The president of the Flight Attendants Union is seeking jail time for severely unruly passengers.
"What we need to do is have the DOJ also criminally prosecuting and using the penalties including up to 20 years in prison for any one of these incidents," said Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants union.
Disputes over masks make up the bulk of the almost 4,000 incidents reported so far this year. The FAA said that alcohol is a factor in about a quarter of disputes. That's why airlines like Southwest Airlines and American Airlines suspended alcohol sales with American announcing it won't resume that service until mid-January.
In almost a decade on the flight deck, Judith, who declined to provide her last name, said she's never had to get physical with a passenger. But she says if she has to, now she's ready after taking the self-defense classes that the TSA has offered.
"I don't know what that's called but like you grab their hand and then you can roll them onto the ground. I thought that was useful," she said. "It was surprisingly fun."