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Aviation Bill Would Provide Flight Attendants to Train for Self-defense at Airlines’ Expense

23 Aug, 2023 Liz Carey

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Washington, DC ( – A provision of one of the Aviation Reauthorization bills pending in Congress would provide flight attendants with training to protect themselves from attacks.

While attacks on flight attendants have increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, self-defense training has been on the minds of flight crew members since the 9/11 attacks, officials said. Now, part of the Aviation reauthorization bills would require airlines to train flight attendants on how to “subdue and restrain” attackers and to defend themselves against weapons.

Since 2020, attacks on flight attendants have hit record highs. On August 8, the Federal Aviation Administration referred another 22 unruly passenger cases to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for criminal prosecution review. The referral bring to 39 the total for 2023 and more than 270 since 2021.

In 2021, there were nearly 6,000 incidents of unruly passengers reported to the FAA. Those incidents fell to 2,455 in 2022, and 1,281 so far this year.

“Unruly behavior poses serious safety concerns for passengers and crew alike, which is why we are addressing this issue aggressively,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “If you act out on an airplane, you can face criminal prosecution and fines up to $37,000 per violation.” 

The new referrals include an incident in March 2023 where a passenger allegedly physically assaulted flight attendants and approached the cockpit as if they were going to enter; a January incident where a passenger is accused of sexual misconduct directed toward a flight attendant, and several others that month where passengers allegedly assaulted a flight attendant.

But part of S.B. 1939, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023, would require airlines to train flight crews against “an edged or contact weapon” and “methods to subdue and restrain an active attacker.” Already laws require airlines train flight crews in “appropriate responses to defend oneself” and “situational training exercises regarding various threat conditions.” The House version, H.R. 3935, the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act, would call for the creation of a task force “to develop voluntary standards and best practices” for flight crews to use in responding to unruly passengers, but no specific language changing training laws in regard to self-defense training. It would also require airlines to provide flight crews who want further TSA training to receive “reasonable accommodations.”

In July, the Association of Flight Attendants – Communications Workers of America, a flight attendant union, applauded the House for passing the bill with a vote of 351-69.

“If the FAA is not funded, we don’t have the proper staffing and infrastructure to keep aviation moving. We see it today with operational meltdowns and reduced schedules - but safety is also a major issue when the national air system is stretched thin. That’s why it’s critical that Congress get an FAA bill done well before the September 30 funding deadline, without any threats of shutdown or extensions. We need stable long-term funding and planning for aviation to work across the industry,” the union said in a statement. “We were successful in getting these Flight Attendant issues into the House bill: improving cabin air quality, establishing Aircraft cabin Temperature Standards, Pumping Guidance, support for Flight Attendants to attend Crew Member Self Defense Training, updating aircraft emergency evacuation standards, reducing exposure to air turbulence, studying and reducing the risks of radiation exposure, deterring crew member interference by disruptive passengers, and review of Medical Equipment on Board.”

With attacks on the rise, the need for self-defense is apparent, advocates said.
“Obviously the last three years have given us ample reasons for why self-defense is an important part of training for flight attendants,” said Taylor Garland, a spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants, told Politico.

But airlines have argued that while the safety and security of passengers and employees is a top priority, airlines already train their crews.

Airlines for America told Politico its members “train their crew members and other frontline employees in de-escalation techniques so that self-defense is used as a last resort,” and that airlines “have partnered” with the Transportation Security Administration on optional self-defense training courses.

Since 2004, the TSA has provided free, optional advanced self-defense training for flight crews. More than 29,000 flight crew members have taken the training, according to the TSA. Enrollment reached record highs in recent years, with more than 4,700 crew members attending training in fiscal 2023. But flight attendants say the classes aren’t easy to take – the classes are offered when crew members are working, and many times they are not compensated for them.

Having the training mandated, flight attendants said, would force the airline industry to pay for them to take the classes allowing them to be equipped with the tools necessary to defend themselves.

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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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