FLIGHT ATTENDANTS -- once able to comfort nervous airline passengers with a smile and a drink -- now are apparently catching flak from what they call a new breed of angry air travelers.
Vacationers on a flight to Honolulu watched in dismay as a passenger choked a male flight attendant. The incident occurred after the passenger forcefully pinned a female flight attendant against the cabin wall while attempting to kiss her and the male attendant came to her aid.
On a Braniff International Airways trans-Atlantic flight on June 25, an intoxicated passenger grabbed a flight attendant. She broke away from his grasp. The incident occurred in the bar area of a Boeing 747. When the flight landed in England the man was arrested and fined $100 for being intoxicated on an aircraft.
On Eastern Flight 598 from Atlanta to Hartford, Conn., a passenger became upset with the flight attendant. He threw a cup of hot tea on her. She suffered first-degree burns on her abdomen.
On a United flight last year from Los Angeles to Chicago, an intoxicated passenger toppled from his seat into a aisle. The flight attendant was unable to pick up the man and requested assistance from nearby passengers. The intoxicated man awoke and began swinging and hitting other passengers and the flight attendant. A passenger placed the man in his seat and sat on top of him until the flight landed.
On American Flight 217 between Boston and Detroit, a well-known baseball player became uncontrollable. He intimidated several flight attendants and disrupted the flight. He was fined $500 by the Federal Aviation Administration.
On a flight between Brazil and New York in 1978, a woman became intoxicated and was refused alcoholic beverages. She began swearing at flight attendants and chasing them up and down the aisles, spitting in their faces and calling them "pigs." She calmed down only after the copilot threatened to handcuff her to the seat.
During a cross-country flight high above Pennsylvania, another passenger, a vice president of a major Midwestern company, was asleep when the flight attendant, serving another passenger, jarred the executive's seat. He jumped up and punched the attendant in the back.
These are a few of the accounts in reports being received by the FAA, flight attendant unions, and attorneys representing cabin crew members in assault and battery suits.
Hit with a tray
FAA spokesmen downplay the flight attendants' fears that violence aloft is on the increase, and airline spokesmen are reluctant to comment on the subject. But flight attendants feel they are becoming the targets of anger spawned in long airport lines and nutured in crowded jetliners. And alcohol, they say, plays a big part in the "foulness" aloft.
FAA statistics covering the last five years seem to bear out their anxieties. The enforcement actions and civil penalties against airlines, crew members, passengers and shippers are sprinkled with accounts of intoxicated passengers interfering with flight attendants, assaults, even an account of indecent exposure. Jerry Lavey an FAA spokesman, says there were 75 violations of interfering with crew members last year, some of which included assualt. The maximum fine for such viiolations is $1,000.
Airlines are fined regularly for allowing drunk passengers aboard. Those passengers, frequently but not always, are fined for impeding the duties of flight attendants and assaulting them. For example, a woman on an American Airlines flight struck a flight attendant with a meal tray. The FAA, according to its records, issued a warning notice to the passenger, but no fine.
"As a general trend, the amount of abuse from passengers has really increased," contends Richard Wagner, who deals with health and safety issues for the 7,000 member Independent Federation of Flight Attendants. The union represents attendants for Trans World Airlines. Wagner blames the increased violence on lower fares and a new class of passenger who is unaware of the "rights and wrongs" of air travel.
He blames the FAA for allowing the abuses to continue on jetliners. "The FAA has to stop treating flight attendants as second-class citizens," he says. "You can rest assured that if a passenger assaulted a pilot he would be taken care of."
Another common complaint among flight attendants is what they say is the airline companies unofficial policy of allowing intoxicated passengers aboard flights. "I think they should be a lot stricter on not letting intoxicated passengers on board," says Tracy Chambers, president of the association that represents flight attendants working for San Diego-based Pacific Southwest Airlines. "Also, I think there ought to be a limit on the number of alcohol drinks a passenger is served."