I just flew for the first time in the midst of the Covid Delta strain making headlines and taking more American lives. I was surprised, having written here about the dramatic rise in unruly passenger reports with more than 70% related to mask wearing, with what I saw. Walking through Dulles International Airport, I looked for anyone not wearing a mask. I didn’t see anyone violating the rules that masks must be worn in the airport and on aircraft.
I put the surgical mask away and donned my N-95 as I ventured into the aviation world. As I boarded, the crew handed out alcohol wipes, as they have for more than a year now. The flight was uneventful. Passengers pulled down masks to eat or drink and put the covering back over their mouths and noses.
IT'S THE MASKS
That doesn’t mean problems aren’t persisting on jetliners. In just nine days (August 8- August 16) the Federal Aviation Administration says there were another 80 reports of unruly passengers and the majority had to do with masks.
First, on enforcement and follow-through with punishment of violators. Aviation unions and associations asked the Department of Justice back in June to do more against violators of the Federal laws protecting airline crews. They called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to “send a strong and consistent message through criminal enforcement that compliance with federal law and upholding aviation safety are of paramount importance.”
CALL FOR MORE ENFORCEMENT
Now in August, Capt. Dennis Tajer of the Allied Pilots Union says, “it’s beyond time for the Department of Justice to have our backs when a passenger choses to be violent on an airplane. It’s pretty simple, a law is not a law if it doesn’t have criminal enforcement.”
One of the most recent high profile cases involves a 22-year old Ohio man named Maxwell Berry. The video of his actions on a Frontier Airlines flight has gone viral. Both video and photos show him taped to his seat by the flight crew. The police report says Berry had been served two alcoholic drinks before he allegedly groped two flight attendants and hit a third in the face.
Don’t these actions amount to a Federal case- interfering with a flight crew? Turns out, according to Miami-Dade authorities, that two FBI Special Agents said they were “not going to pursue Federeal (sic) felony charges.” No reason was cited in the Miami police report. Local authorities have charged Berry with three misdemeanor counts of battery.
Meanwhile, the fallout continues over the way the Frontier Airlines crew restrained Berry. The airline at first said the crew would be “relieved of flying” duties. After union protests, Frontier changed that to paid leave while the incident is investigated.
DIRECTION TO CREWS
United Airlines has now taken note of the situation. United’s head of Inflight Services made clear in a newsletter- don’t use tape! John Slater said, “there are designated items onboard that may be used in difficult situations, and alternative measures such as tape should never be used.”
Slater does highlight in his note that the “overwhelming majority of our customers have been on their best behavior throughout the pandemic and returned to our flights with confidence and enthusiasm.” But the numbers of those not following the rules and making trouble still needs a stronger response according to those serving unruly passengers.