ATW Editor's Blog

The flight crew dilemma: a follow up


Since I wrote in this blog about a couple of onboard incidents involving passenger behavior, more details have come to light about the second incident – involving a Muslim American male – that warrants a follow up.

That incident, which occurred Dec. 21, happened on a Delta flight as it was boarding for a flight from London Heathrow to New York. It was reported that the man and his companion were ordered off the flight after another passenger complained that they were talking in Arabic.

I later spoke with a Delta representative and have seen several accounts of what actually appears to have happened and which help explain the action taken by the flight crew. I am told that the two men were deliberately trying to provoke a reaction and were speaking loudly and angrily. One of them is known for creating similar situations to feed his YouTube videos.

It’s reasonable to assume that if you try to incite a crowd disturbance in a confined tube ahead of an eight-hour transatlantic flight, you will be asked to leave. (The men were not charged with anything and were put on a later flight).

This still goes to my broader point. Flight crews have an incredibly difficult job making quick decisions in these types of cases and they are not bouncers or law enforcement officers (nor would we want them to be). But there are a set of civil standards by which all passengers – bar those under the age of five – should abide, or risk being thrown off (if possible) and/or receiving punitive action on the ground. These standards include not behaving violently or being a nuisance to fellow passengers.

Meanwhile, following the incident on Korean Air in which a passenger had to be strapped down after getting intoxicated and kicking and spitting on flight attendants and passengers, Korean has announced it will change its policy on the use of Taser stun guns. If you’ve seen the videos, this man’s behavior was diabolical and he has now been charged. But I’m not convinced that weapons are the answer. The primary focus should be on training and laws that severely punish those who cause disruptions on flights and which also protect and compensate crew members who are injured by violent behavior.

Best of all, however, is to somehow reverse this trend of rising anti-social behavior on commercial flights. That’s a tough problem to address. I recently wrote an editorial about how most airline safety videos seem to be stuck in a previous era, spending many minutes explaining how to don a life jacket and not to smoke onboard when more attention should be paid to firmly instructing passengers to leave their bags onboard if there’s an emergency evacuation. Perhaps there should also be a stern warning against disruptive or violent behavior? I flew on Air China earlier this year and there was such a warning.

But the bottom line is that passenger behavior is not all the responsibility of the flight crew; with that boarding pass comes an expectation of reasonable, civilized conduct.  New Year’s resolution? Be courteous to the flight attendants and your fellow passengers. Pay attention to the safety briefing; at least look up when the exits are being shown. Happy flying in 2017!

Karen Walker

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