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Airline workers taking self-defense courses to deal with unruly passengers

Flight attendants are brushing up on their fight skills as clashes with unruly passengers become more commonplace in the not-so-friendly skies.

The Transportation Security Administration has relaunched self-defense courses for flight attendants — as airline workers report an increasing amount of unruly passengers, many of them angry about masking requirements.

The Federal Air Marshal Service teach the one-day course, which had been paused because of the coronavirus pandemic, instructing flight attendants how to punch and even eye-poke using a fight mannequin.

“You are going to possibly die,” an unnamed instructor is heard telling a class in Sunrise, Florida in a CNN clip that aired Thursday. “You need to defend yourself at all costs.”

A few hundred are enrolled to take the course this year, the network stated.

flight attendant self defense training
The TSA is offering the training to airline workers amid a rise in unruly passengers on flights.
flight attendant self defense training
The Federal Air Marshal Service teaches the class to help flight attendants in case things end up out of hand on flights.

“I don’t ever want to use any of this,” Donna O’Neil told CNN. “But if I had to, I certainly feel much more confident.”

Some 17 percent of flight attendants said they had experienced a physical incident in the first half of 2021, according to a poll by the Association of Flight Attendants released Thursday.

Of the 5,000 attendants polled across 30 airlines, 85 percent said they had dealt with unruly passengers — and 58 percent said they’d experienced at least five incidents, the poll stated.

Those polled cited mask compliance and alcohol as some of the reasons for the increasing in-air aggression. Reported incidents include shoving, throwing trash and “defiling” restrooms in response to airline instructions, the association stated in a news release.

“This survey confirms what we all know, the vitriol, verbal and physical abuse from a small group of passengers is completely out of control, and is putting other passengers and flight crew at risk,” association President Sara Nelson said in a statement.

Passengers with face masks as seen at Athens International Airport
Airline workers said they’ve had difficulties with customers not wanting to comply with masking.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

“This is not just about masks as some have attended to claim,” she went on. “There is a lot more going on here and the solutions require a series of actions in coordination across aviation.”

There were 3,615 incidents reported to the Federal Aviation Administration and a “record number of enforcement actions,” the association stated.

The group is pushing for action, including making permanent a “zero tolerance” policy for traveler bad behavior that was implemented in March 2021.


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