Investigator: Anger in air interferes with flight crew

10:07 PM, May 9, 2012   |    comments
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HUDSON -- Flight attendants complain on a little-known NASA database about passengers who interfere with flight crews by being combative, vulgar and drunk.

Channel 3 News Investigator Tom Meyer examined the database and found nearly 700 reports last year alone. But the nation's largest union for flight attendants says there are many more incidents that go unreported.

The Association of Flight Attendants, the AFA, says the number of flight crew interference reported each year by the FAA is a misrepresentation of the situation. The AFA  believes many more incidents go unreported due to lax reporting guidelines and the FAA's inability to prosecute cases.

Airline attendants report on passengers who choked an attendant, threatened to kill one, hit an employee's jaw and drew blood.  One attendant said she tried to stop one passenger from biting another passenger's breast.

Attendant Jackie Hamilton said one passenger used a racial slur before spitting on her feet. "Spitting is one of the most unforgiveable, disgusting, repulsive things you can do to a person," Hamilton said.

Jennifer Grega, of Hudson, has worked for a major airline for 23 years. She says passenger misconduct is growing in number.  Other attendants report it's also growing in the level of hostility.

Grega has taken self-defense courses offered by TSA to defend herself "against unruly passengers who get out of hand."  She wants TSA to make the courses mandatory.

Now, flight attendants take the classes voluntarily and must fly to certain cities for the training on their own time and money.

According to the NASA database Meyer reviewed, one passenger ran after a flight attendnat, grabbed her by the back of her belt, spun her around and tried to hit her.

Airline attendants report on passengers who are "vulgar, obscene, unstable, dangerous and drunk."

In most cases Meyer examined, alcohol fueled the sky rage.

"I have no trouble cutting someone off who has had too much to drink," said Grega. "It's my job to maintain the safety of that aircraft."

Interfering with a flight crew is a federal offense, with civil fines up to $25,000 and criminal penalties of up to $250,000 and 20 years in prison. The FBI usually investigates more serious cases involving dangerous behavior and physical abuse.

Of course, flight crews can also lose their cool. You'll recall former airline attendant Steve Slater.  He got fed up with a pasenger.  He cut loose with a profanity-laced tirade over the plane's public address system.

Then he grabbed a couple beers and slid down the inflatable, emergency chute.

Who can forget Captain Clayton Osbon? Passengers wrestled the Jet Blue pilot to the floor when they say he ran screaming through the cabin. 

The union argues these are isolated incidents.  It's much more concerned about passenger misconduct.

Grega, an AFA officer, believes the Federal Aviation Administration could do a lot more to promote safety. She says attendants need additional training to maintain the safety and security of the crew and the cabin.   

"I feel we're more at risk," Grega said.


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