Flight attendants want protections against abusive passengers

“There is a general lack of civility,” said Corliss King, a flight attendant with Southwest Airlines.

SHARE Flight attendants want protections against abusive passengers
Corliss King hands out a card to a traveler at Midway Airport to raise awareness of assaults of airline employees.

Corliss King hands out a card to a traveler at Midway Airport to raise awareness of assaults of airline employees.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Flight attendant Corliss King wonders what it is about being in a tube at 30,000 feet that lets some passengers think there are no repercussions for harassing and abusing flight crews.

“We have had flight attendants who have been hit, who have been grabbed to the point of bruising, some who’ve been followed off the aircraft and some who’ve been spirited away through the terminal because of threats,” she said. “It needs to stop.”

King was one of six flight attendants who held a news conference and passed out literature to travelers Thursday at Midway Airport to bring attention to the issue and put pressure on legislators, regulators and airline executives to take action.

The action is part of a union-led effort dubbed the “Assault Won’t Fly” campaign that seeks passage of the Protection From Abusive Passengers Act.

The federal legislation was introduced in April and calls for stiffer penalties for unruly passengers, suspension of their ability to fly and creation of a “no-fly list” that airlines would share to make sure passengers who abuse crew on one airline can’t book a flight with a different airline.

“Those passengers need to have consequences across the industry,” said King, who also serves as vice president of Transportation Workers Union Local 556, which represents 18,000 Southwest Airlines flight attendants nationwide. “They should be banned from flying on any commercial aircraft for a period of time.”

Incidents of harassment and assault toward flight attendants spiked during the pandemic. Many incidents arose from pushback on the enforcement of rules requiring face masks on airplanes. While masks are no longer required, King fears there’s no going back to normal.

“I believe it’s going to be difficult to unring the bell. There’s a standard that’s allowed unacceptable behavior to become common. There is a general lack of civility,” she said.

Klarissa-Ann Principe, a flight attendant with Allegiant Air, said people get triggered in response to the simplest requests.

“‘Please put your seatbelt on. Please put your bag under the seat in front of you.’ These things are met with ‘I don’t have to listen to you. I don’t have to do that,’” Principe said.

Stacy Bassford, a flight attendant with Jet Blue, has had a passenger grab her in the midsection and dig fingernails into her skin. Another passenger groped her, she said.

“It’s dehumanizing,” she said.

King, who urged passengers at Midway on Thursday to call elected officials and tell them to pass the Protection From Abusive Passengers Act, said working in a safe environment is a requirement that needs to be met.

“Unless you’re a boxer or a football player, nobody chooses to have violence as part of your day-to-day job,” King said.

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