A hijacker wielding a knife, a drunk asking for another drink, a man refusing to put on a mask – flight attendants are receiving training on how to handle these scenarios in these increasingly aggressive passenger times.
“I am not going to put the mask on! I’m not wearing it! “yelled an air marshal, in a role play, as he pushed a flight attendant into the back of an airplane simulator.
During a recent four-hour course, roughly 20 flight attendants and a few pilots learned punching, eye punching and other techniques in a nondescript El Segundo office building not far from Los Angeles International Airport. The Transportation Security Administration has offered this type of instruction to flight crew members since 2005. These days, class is as important as ever, and unruly passenger incidents have skyrocketed.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were almost eight incidents of unruly passengers last week for every 10,000 flights. While that number dropped from around 12 incidents per week since the beginning of the year, it is still more than triple the average at the end of 2020.
That translates to about 4,700 reported cases of unruly passengers so far this year. Not surprisingly, the pandemic is wreaking havoc: 3,400 of these were mask-related incidents; passengers must wear masks correctly while on board, unless they have a TSA exemption.
“It’s programs like these that we can take on the skills that our federal air marshals have acquired through a rigorous training program, field experience (and) hands-on,” said Daniel Babor, TSA supervising air marshal in charge, “ and share that with our industry counterparts to strengthen overall security.
“They are on the front line, working with the passengers every day,” he added, referring to the flight crews. “Lately, we have all seen the increase in passengers become disturbing, in many cases it becomes violent or aggressive. So the purpose of this course is to give them confidence when faced with any scenario. “
In May, a woman in a Southwest flight from Sacramento to San Diego pushed and hit a flight attendant after refusing to buckle up and put away her tray, a Sacramento Bee story reported. The assistant received four stitches and suffered three broken teeth, according to court documents.
On a Frontier Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Miami in August, a drunk passenger assaulted three flight attendants, hitting one and grabbing the breasts of two others, authorities told The New York Times, adding that the 22-year-old was taped to his seat and later arrested.
Just last month a passenger attacked a flight attendant while attempting to rob a JetBlue cabin on a flight from Boston to San Juan, Puerto Rico, according to ABC News, grabbing his tie and neck. Other flight attendants restrained the man, who was eventually held in check with flexible cuffs and seat belt extenders and at one point asked in Spanish and Arabic to shoot him, the ABC story says. He was arrested in San Juan.
Sarah Shupe, who has been a flight attendant for five years, said the course was more in-depth than the training provided by airlines. The 36-year-old flew south that morning from Sacramento in her own time to receive additional instruction.
“This forces you to see work differently,” he said. “It is good to acquire more skills.
“More and more, passengers have defaulted more and more, it is more difficult to get them to do simple things like masks or trays, or to store their luggage,” Shupe said. “I can’t even imagine if it escalated. So I wanted to take this class, it seems that the environment is changing. “
During the recent training session on a Thursday, flight attendants and pilots listened to instructors. They hit punching bags. Dealing with air stewards. He worked on removing a knife. I practiced eye extraction on a human-shaped mannequin.
They played roles, with the air crew chiefs cheering and cheering them on.
“You have to attack!”
“Come on, strike!”
The air marshals wanted the flight crew members to have the right mindset, in case they had to return there one day to deal with problems. That mindset is the main goal of the training, said Carlos, an air marshal (the TSA does not want air marshals’ last names used for security purposes). Physical techniques are of secondary importance.
“It is very real, there is an upturn, as we all know, in assaults and clashes aboard planes,” said the air marshal. “We try to make it as real as possible in here, so that they do not see it for the first time on board a plane; they are already somewhat prepared for those moments of confrontation.”