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Anger in the Air: How Airlines Are Coping With Unruly Passengers

FAA Unruly Passengers
Nam Y. Huh/AP
A sign stating that face coverings are required is displayed at a security check-in at O'Hare airport in Chicago in this July 17, 2021 photo. Amid increasing reports of violent anti-mask outbursts at airports and on board passenger jets, the nation’s top aviation regulator has asked local officials to consider filing criminal charges more often against people who become unruly during airline flights. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

We have spoken many times on this show about incivility in the public square; the coarseness and vulgarity of much of what passes for public discourse; the dire need for basic politeness in an era of extreme political polarity; the ad hominem attacks that many employ as a substitute for reason and rational argument.

As the insurrection on January 6th demonstrated, that incivility and willingness to stipulate to counter-factual ideas can have deadly consequences. And whether it’s a local school board or a town council, the examples we’ve all seen of people acting out, and acting violently, are a sad reminder that our differences don’t just surround issues like whether we should wear a mask or get a vaccine. They also speak to what we consider appropriate public behavior.

These issues take on particularly difficult dimensions when that behavior takes place while people are sharing an airline cabin. Today on Midday, a conversation about the disturbing rise in violent behavior by airline passengers.

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued more than $1 million in fines this year to passengers who violate federal law by interfering with the duties of flight crews. As of last week, there have already been more than 4,200 reports of unruly people on planes this year.

Sara Nelson is president of the Association of Flight Attendants; Capt. Dennis Tajer is a veteran American Airlines pilot and communications chief for the Airline Pilots Association.

Tom's guests today represent the folks who have to deal with those unruly passengers. Sara Nelson is the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, a position she has held since 2014. Her union represents more than 50,000 flight attendants who fly for 17 different airlines. Ms. Nelson joins us on Zoom from Washington, DC.

Captain Dennis Tajer is an Air Force veteran, a pilot for American Airlines, and the spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association, the collective bargaining union that represents 15,000 American Airlines pilots. Captain Tajer joins us on our digital line from Chicago.

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Host, Midday (M-F 12:00-1:00)
Malarie is Midday's Supervisory Producer.
Rob is Midday's senior producer.