Skip to content

85% of flight attendants say they've dealt with unruly passengers this year

July 30, 2021
5 min read
85% of flight attendants say they've dealt with unruly passengers this year
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

More than 85% of flight attendants who responded to a recent survey say they have encountered unruly passengers over the first seven months of 2021.

Further, nearly 20% of those who responded say they've encountered physical violence on aircraft this year, according to the results of the survey, which was run by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), a major flight attendants union.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!

The survey comes amid an increase in cases of unruly passengers onboard commercial flights in the U.S. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there have been 3,615 reported incidents so far this year.

But according to the AFA, that number is likely an undercount, based on the survey results.

"More than [70%] of the flight attendants [who responded to the survey] say that when they've reported this, they have not seen follow-up from management," Sara Nelson, the AFA president, said on a conference call Thursday. "That doesn't mean the report didn't go to the FAA," she added, "but the flight attendants are not getting any follow-up."

Are you an airline employee or industry insider? Message this reporter with tips, feedback, or opinions at david.slotnick@thepointsguy.com.

About 5,000 flight attendants responded to the survey, the AFA said, including some who are not members of the union. All were based in the United States.

While there are a few issues driving the increase, Nelson and others have said the cause is a combination of factors including mask noncompliance, as well as alcohol, pandemic-related stress as people begin traveling again, and passenger frustration during delays or cancelations.

Read more: FAA doles out $124,500 more in fines as it continues unruly flyer crackdown

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Notably, in terms of the mask noncompliance, recent politicization of masks is not necessarily the cause, flight attendants have said. Simply adding another enforcement interaction between passengers and flight attendants is enough to heighten tensions — just as would have been the case if a now-commonplace rule, like raising seat backs and tray tables for takeoff and landing, were introduced today.

Masks are currently required to be worn on aircraft through Sept. 13, although Nelson said she thinks it's likely that the mandate will be extended.

In January, the FAA announced a zero-tolerance policy for unruly behavior aboard flights. The agency has fined passengers a total of hundreds of thousands of dollars over various incidents. The largest individual fine, $52,500, was issued against a passenger who allegedly tried to force open the cockpit door and physically assaulted a flight attendant.

Nelson on Thursday called for increased enforcement, including criminal prosecution in cases where passengers become unruly or violent (the FAA fines are considered to be civil penalties, not criminal).

"We are again imploring [the Department of Justice] to conduct criminal prosecutions," Nelson said. "This is not something that needs to change under the law; all they need to do is use the statute that already exists to prosecute."

Read more: FAA fines passenger a record $52,500 as crackdown on disruptive passengers continues

"We believe that criminal penalties are critical to making it very clear that there are severe consequences for this type of action," she added.

Although some have complained that flight attendants themselves have been escalating in-flight issues, Nelson strongly refuted that take.

"Part of the problem here is that we're in a space where if everyone doesn't comply, it does jeopardize the safety of everyone else," Nelson said. "Flight attendants are charged with enforcing the rules."

"We've been led to believe that we're in conflict with each other in this country. There are people who think that enforcing the rules is an impingement on their rights," she added. "Flight attendants have been called 'Nazis' by cable news personalities. And all of that rhetoric is adding to the conflict, and attempting to define flight attendants as being difficult, when really, they're just doing their jobs."

Read more: Don’t be a jerk on a flight; there are no more second chances this summer

Nelson added that even though "flight attendants are people too" and, that it's always possible for an individual to "lose their cool," that is not representative of what's driving the increase in unruly passengers.

Ultimately, and fortunately, despite the sharp increase in incidents, the overall number remains small compared to the more than 2 million people who fly most days.

"While this still remains a relatively small number of passengers," Nelson said," the events onboard are exponentially more than they typically are, and the atmosphere that this relatively small number of passengers is creating is incredibly hostile."

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

TPG Exclusive Offer
TPG Exclusive Offer
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 5X points
5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
1.5XEarn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year
1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.

Intro offer

Earn 150,000 points120,000 points
The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$695

Recommended Credit

670-850
Good, Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
Apply for The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
TPG Exclusive Offer
TPG Exclusive Offer
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
1.5XEarn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year
1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 150,000 points
    120,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.