US flight attendants rush back to self-defence in face of rising passenger unruliness

Man practicing martial arts outdoors

After the September 11 attacks, congress mandated self-defence training for flight attendants, yet crew members are finding that they need it now more than ever.

In 2021 there was a nearly eightfold increase in the number of recorded incidences of unruly behaviour by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The FAA has clocked 5,338 reports of disruptive passengers, with a majority (3,856) handed out to passengers who refused to comply with the country’s mask mandate, since the start of the year.

With a plethora of violent, inappropriate and blatantly illegal actions taken by passengers against crewmembers, airline staff are being encouraged to take self-defence training.

The class, which is free for crew members, lasts four hours and is voluntary, took a break during the pandemic, however, it’s been available again since July this year.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administrator, Darby LaJoye, is excited about the self-defence class ending its hiatus.

“Through this training program, TSA’s Federal Air Marshals are able to impart their specialised expertise in defending against and de-escalating an attack while in an aircraft environment,” he said.

“While it is our hope that flight crew members never have need for these tactics, it is critical to everyone’s safety that they be well-prepared to handle situations as they arise.”

Katie (featured image), a flight attendant who chose to keep her last name and employer private so she could speak freely, spoke to The Washington Post about her experience undertaking the class.

“I just wanted to make sure that I’m prepared for anything that could happen,” she said.

“I’ve been involved in situations before.

“And we have de-escalation scenarios that we try to run through to the best of our abilities, but sometimes it just gets to a level that we need a little extra defence training.”

“I hope that it doesn’t get to the physical level, but more and more these days it has been sort of getting to the physical level.

“I think it’s really important to make sure that you’re prepared for that as well,” Katie said.

International president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, Sara Nelson, says the pressure is on flight attendants these days.

“This is the most dangerous and uncertain time in our entire history,” she said.

“Flight attendants are working longer days with shorter nights, wearing masks for 14, 15 hours a day … having a harder time getting nutrition throughout the day and charged with keeping everyone safe on the plane.

“Those are just the basics.”

The classes are led by demonstrations from certified instructors, teaching how to respond against an attacker in an aircraft.

Flight crew members learn to identify and deter potential threats and apply self-defence techniques against attackers.

The FAA recently proposed 8 alcohol-related fines totalling $US161,823 ($A225,662).

The alleged instances of unruliness involved drunken passengers attacking staff, demanding drinks, throwing things around the plane, urinating on the floor, and quite often refusing to wear a mask.

Self-defence classes and the increase in unruliness come as United States airlines are facing their biggest onslaught of passengers since the start of the pandemic.

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