US lawmakers weigh further crackdown on 'air rage' villains

New York (AFP) –


More criminal charges against violent airline passengers, a shared national no-fly list, and halting sales of "to go" alcohol at US airports.

Those were among the ideas floated Thursday at a congressional hearing on how to address the surge in "air rage" incidents during the coronavirus pandemic.

In one well-publicized horror story, a passenger punched a Southwest Airlines flight attendant in the face, chipping three teeth.

Other passengers have thrown things at crews, shouted obscenities and assaulted other passengers.

"This pandemic has been amongst the most trying and tumultuous times to work in the airline industry," said Teddy Andrews, a veteran American Airlines flight attendant who recounted a contentious episode with one customer who resisted complying with the face mask requirement.

Andrews, who is Black, said he was repeatedly called the "N word" by the passenger, but managed to calm the tension and convince the person to comply.

"There was no need to escalate it any further," he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it has made progress addressing the problem since unveiling a "zero tolerance" policy earlier this year that involves more fines for unruly passengers and publicizing those actions.

The rate of incidents are down 50 percent compared with earlier this year, but remain more than twice the level seen at the end of 2020, according to the agency.

"We need this progress to continue," said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. "This remains a serious safety threat, and one incident is one too many."

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, praised some of the FAA's steps, but said more work was needed throughout the industry to address the problem.

"We simply cannot accept this as the new normal," she said.

Nelson called on the Justice Department to criminally charge the worst offenders, saying she has only heard of one such prosecution.

And she called for an end on "to go" alcohol sales at airports and for authorities to do a better job of enforcing mask mandates at airports.

Representative Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said the FAA could establish a national no-fly list where airlines could enter the names of dangerous passengers.

Under present law, airlines can bar passengers from their own flights, but are not permitted to share the information.