Violent Anti-Maskers Make ‘Living Nightmare’ For Flight Attendants
October 5, 2021
By Asia Grace, New York Post
DeeDee dreamed of being a flight attendant when she was a little girl and has been in the high-flying profession for nearly two decades. But now the 58-year-old says she sometimes struggles to get out of bed and go to work.
“I’m afraid of the viciousness I’ll face from the passengers,” said the widow and mom of two, who declined to share her full name or current employer for privacy purposes.
Outrage over COVID-19 safety guidelines and a recent increase in flight delays and cancellations, mixed with alcohol intake, are fueling a surge in passenger brutality against flight crews. A recent Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) survey of 5,000 members found that 85 percent of flight attendants have been confronted by rowdy airline travelers this year, 58 percent have experienced at least five incidents of disorderly conduct and a whopping 17 percent have even been physically attacked.
“Work is a living nightmare,” said DeeDee.
Although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enacted a Zero Tolerance Policy on Jan. 13, vowing legal action and a fine of up to $37,000 against anyone who assaults, threatens, intimidates or interferes with airline crew members, violence against flight attendants has persisted.
The FAA has received a staggering 4,498 reports of unruly passengers attacking in-flight support staffers since the dawn of 2021. More than 800 brutality investigations have been initiated this year — double the amount launched in 2019 and 2020 combined.
It’s gotten so bad, that more and more flight attendants are enrolling in industry self-defense courses. The training, which is led by federal air marshals, was mandatory after 9/11 but later became voluntary and had limited enrollment. Now, it’s been rebooted and more and more crew members are opting in.
“This should send a message to the public that these events are serious and flight attendants are there to ensure and direct the safety and security of everyone in the plane,” said Sara Nelson, president of the AFA.
Over 3,200 of the injurious incidents were in direct relation to the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) federal mask mandate. The order demands that passengers wear face coverings for the duration of their flight to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“No one wants to wear their masks, and when I ask them to, they call me names like ‘bitch’ and ‘dumb a – -,’ ” said Kelly, a 25-year-old commercial flight attendant of seven years. “Work has definitely become more dangerous for flight attendants since it’s become safer for people to travel again.”
The Texas native, who began her career as a flight crew member at age 18, shared footage on TikTok last month of herself tearfully stumbling home after being verbally demeaned at work. It went viral, but she later removed it from her public profile.
“I was used to having to deal with an uncooperative passenger every once in a while, but now everyone is just so rude and hostile,” said Kelly, who declined to give her full name because of her company’s media policy. “The other day a guy ripped off his mask and burped right in my face.”
While things were never this bad before, Kelly did experience occasional turbulence with inappropriate passengers long before the global pandemic.
Years ago, a drunk male passenger smacked her rear end and attempted to grope her breasts during a flight from Dallas, Texas, to Louisville, Kentucky. The man ultimately avoided any legal repercussions.
“A lot of attendants are sexual assaulted,” said Kelly, who ultimately hopes to become a pilot. More recently, she has received messages from passengers who memorize her name in order to find her on Facebook and ask to buy her used pantyhose.
“People don’t realize that we’re educated and hard-working humans,” she said with a sigh. “We’re looked at like a piece of meat or an easy target for abuse.”
Flight attendant and verified TikTok influencer Cierra, 27, concurred. “We’re treated like animals,” said Cierra, who opted not to disclose her last name due to her airline’s protocols, told The Post.
The New York transplant from Indiana ditched her six-year post as a marine mammal caretaker to become a flight attendant in early 2020, right before the pandemic erupted.
“My friends always joke that becoming a flight attendant as soon as COVID hit should have been a sign that flight attending might not be the career for me,” Cierra said laughing. “I just wish passengers understood that the rules we have to enforce is to ensure their safety, not because we’re looking for a fight or to piss them off.”
While she’s avoided being physically assaulted so far, the looming threat of violence weighs heavily on her psyche. She can’t stop thinking about an incident in May in which a passenger ambushed a Southwest attendant, who ultimately lost two teeth in the assault.
“We’re the only airline employees that have to worry about getting our teeth knocked out for telling someone to put their mask on or to fasten their seat belts,” Cierra said.