A passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight attacked a flight attendant Sunday morning after ignoring standard instructions as the plane was landing in San Diego, the airline said. According to a letter from the flight attendants union, the assault left the crew member with an injured face and the loss of two teeth.
The passenger was taken into custody by authorities who met the plane at the airport. In a news release, the Port of San Diego Harbor Police said the 28-year-old woman was arrested for battery causing serious bodily injury, a felony. Paramedics took the flight attendant to a hospital.
“We do not condone or tolerate verbal or physical abuse of our flight crews, who are responsible for the safety of our passengers,” Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said in an email.
In an open letter to CEO Gary Kelly, the president of Transport Workers Union Local 556 — the union for Southwest flight attendants — wrote that the Sunday incident was not isolated. There were 477 cases of passenger misconduct on the airline between April 8 and May 15, Lyn Montgomery wrote.
“This unprecedented number of incidents has reached an intolerable level, with passenger non-compliance events also becoming more aggressive in nature,” she wrote.
The reported increase in misconduct is not limited to Southwest. The Federal Aviation Administration said earlier this month that it was reviewing 1,300 reports of bad behavior by passengers since February — after initiating 1,300 such cases in the prior decade.
“Across the board nationwide, it is a problem for every airline and every flight attendant right now,” Montgomery said in an interview.
She said she couldn’t give one reason for the rise in unruly passengers.
“But my flight attendants will tell me it could be the state of unrest in the nation, the mask compliance, covid and being locked down for so long,” she said. “There is definitely more aggression and hostility toward flight attendants who are just trying to do their basic job.”
In her letter, Montgomery asked that the airline educate passengers on the civil penalties or criminal charges they could face for bad behavior and more effectively use the Southwest “restricted travelers list.” She said no passenger who is removed from a Southwest flight for noncompliance should be allowed to board the next one. Mainz, the spokesman, said the airline does not release the number of people on its no-fly list.
“We ask that you take a strong stance to ensure that unruly passengers are not welcome to travel with us, period, full stop,” Montgomery wrote.
The letter also asked Kelly to demand that the government put more federal air marshals on planes and ask that they get involved when a cabin crew member is threatened.
Mainz said in an email that the airline is partnering with the FAA on investigations so the agency can take action when appropriate.
“We understand and share the Union’s concerns regarding passenger non-compliance and disruptive behavior,” he wrote.