Attacks on Flight Personnel Down After Mask Mandate Dropped

Liz Carey

Washington, DC ( Attacks on flight attendants and other airline crew members is down following a judge’s ruling effectively banning the mask mandate on airplanes.

According to data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the week after the mask mandate ended was the first week unruly passenger complaints dropped to pre-mandate levels.

As of May 17, the FAA reported 1,375 incidents of unruly passengers so far this year. On April 19, the airlines reported 1,233 incidents of unruly passengers, 797 of those were reportedly mask related. The 142 incidents happened over the course of four weeks, for an average of 35.3 incidents per week. In 2021, the FAA reported nearly 6,000 incidents of unruly passengers, for an average of 115 incidents per week.

The vast majority of the complaints, both in 2021 and this year, were mask related, the FAA said. In fact, about 70 percent of all the unruly passenger reports in 2021 were centered around masks.

On April 18, a federal judge in Florida threw out the mask mandate saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had exceeded its authority when it put the mask mandate in place during the early days of President Joe Biden’s administration.

The next week, unruly passenger incidents dropped dramatically to under two complaints of unruly passenger behavior for every 10,000 flights. As of May 8, the FAA reports it records 2.45 incidents for every 10,000 flights.

Still, the FAA and announced in late April that it will make its “zero-tolerance” policy for unruly behavior permanent. Under the policy that went into place in January 2021, the FAA will issue fines to passengers who are unruly, instead of issuing warning letters or counseling passengers on their first offense. The agency said it is also working with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to revoke TSA PreCheck from unruly passengers who are convicted of unruly behavior.

“Keeping our zero-tolerance policy will help us continue making progress to prevent and punish this behavior,” Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a statement last month.

Despite the dropped mask mandate, however, 2022 remains the second worst year on record for unruly complaints. More than 415 reported incidents have been put forth for investigation into whether criminal charges are warranted.

And it certainly doesn’t mean unruly behavior has stopped.

On May 16, three people were kicked off of a Frontier Airlines flight at Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport. One of the three was a well-known Cleveland detective. According to witnesses, Det. Steve Loomis was forced off the plane at the order of the flight crew after he wouldn’t stop using his cell phone to record an unruly passenger.

One of the passengers told WOIO that a woman on board the flight started shouting for several minutes.

“Just out of the blue she started yelling,” said Ken Henline. “The [flight attendant] tried calming her down, but she wasn’t listening at all.”

Witnesses said the flight attendants tried to de-escalate the situation. But Loomis, the former president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, wouldn’t stop recording while the woman was yelling.

“There was a lady out of control making accusations,” current CPPA president Jeff Follmer told WOIO. “Steve did the smart thing, he was videotaping. We all know how important videotaping is. You’d think the airlines would want something like that to protect them.”

On May 5, a passenger on a flight that had just touched down in Chicago was arrested when he opened an emergency door and slid down the wing of a moving plane, officials said.

United Flight 2478 from San Diego landed at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and was taxiing toward the gate when one of the passengers pulled the emergency exit door off and stepped onto the wing, officials said.

“Our ground crew stopped the individual outside of the aircraft, and the person is now with law enforcement. The plane then arrived at the gate and all passengers deplaned safely,” a spokesman from United said in a statement.

The passenger was arrested on the runway, officials said.

And in late April, a first-class Delta passenger allegedly verbally and physically assaulted a flight attendant who refused to serve him more alcohol.

Christopher Alexander Morgan was flying to Phoenix from Atlanta on April 22 when he became uncooperative. According to an affidavit filed by the FBI, Morgan reclined his seat all the way back and refused to put his seatbelt on, despite being directed to by flight attendants.

The affidavit said Morgan became “uncooperative and would not comply with their instructions.” Later, after drinking one alcoholic drink, he got angry when a flight attendant refused to serve him another alcoholic drink and offered him a non-alcoholic drink instead.

Morgan yelled at the flight attendant, calling him an anti-gay slur, and hit him in the chest with a telephone, the affidavit said. Morgan is also accused of throwing ice in the flight attendants face and throwing the phone at them. He was arrested when the flight landed and charged with interference with flight crew members or attendants, a felony. If convicted Morgan could serve as many as 20 years in prison.

As his defense, Morgan said he is homophobic and that his homophobia may have caused his temper towards the flight attendant to escalate.