DALLAS — The pandemic has created a lot of new twists and turns in our daily lives. For the most part, we have slowly begun to re-integrate into some form of normalcy since the height of coronavirus.
But, one of the unintended consequences of the pandemic has been to travel. Flying nowadays has a new wrinkle to it: unruly passengers. The FAA recorded 5,114 unruly passenger reports this year alone, mostly involving masks and alcohol.
"They are fearful to come to work, they don't know what to expect when coming to work," said Julie Hedrick, the president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. APFA represents nearly 24,000 American Airlines crew members.
"There are verbal assaults daily. The physical assaults are more than we've ever seen before," Hedrick said.
"It's more than I care to see...definitely more than I care to see," said Byron Irby, who is the Federal Air Marshall Special Agent in Charge.
There is a facility at the Transportation Security Administration/Federal Air Marshal Service in Coppell where crew members are being trained to physically respond to unruly passengers if needed.
"Strikes, punches, and kicks....whatever it takes," Irby said.
When WFAA arrived at a November training session, there were four flight attendants training in that class. Together, they had more than 55 years of flying experience. WFAA is protecting the names of those flight attendants for their safety.
"Lot of frustrations on the job, so this is my day to take it out on somebody," one flight attendant laughed as she took rounds punching a bag.
"It's not what we signed up for but that's what it is today," said another flight attendant responding to the recent trend of violent passengers.
Hedrick is fighting unruly passengers from a different angle: negotiation. The APFA is in constant contact with other unions and airlines and looking for ways to provide a safe environment. Hedrick was open with WFAA about what they want: They want airports to ban to-go alcohol; they want offenders to be fully prosecuted with stiffer penalties and to be put on a federal no-fly list.
"If you assault a flight attendant on American Airlines today you should not be able to go fly on another carrier today, tomorrow, or the next day," Hedrick said.
The Federal Aviation Administration put out an ominous warning several weeks ago saying unruly passenger cases will go directly to the FBI.
The training is voluntary. Four thousand people have come through the training in the last three years. They are being trained to react in a tight space and diffuse what cannot be talked through and respond when confronted.
"I have no desire to use it but I'd rather know how to use it when needed than I would lay down and take it," said another flight attendant.