Change in the air: a hope of normalcy and less violence on airplanes

Violence has become such a problem that a federal no-fly list has been proposed, so unruly passengers could no longer fly.

Jacob van Cleef

Former Consumer Watchdog, Associate, PIRG

Across the country, cities and businesses are removing COVID protocols and opening back up. Southwest Airlines is taking a step to return back to normal: selling alcohol on flights. This puts the airline in line with two of the other big four airlines, Delta and United, which both resumed alcohol service in 2021, leaving American Airlines as the last of the four not selling alcohol. 

The increased feeling of normalcy is a welcomed outcome of the change, but not everyone is pleased. The union representing the flight attendants is “outraged” at the decision. Their reasoning for the anger: Fear of compounding the danger to flight attendants during a time of increased violence on airplanes.

During the pandemic, violence on flights has increased, likely for a few reasons, including mask mandates and fuller cabins. In addition, alcohol has been cited as being involved in some incidents. So far this year, as of March 14, there have been 889 reports of unruly passengers.

Violence on flights is not just a problem for the flight attendants and pilots. Flights can be diverted or delayed, and other passengers sometimes need to get involved. For instance, a flight in October going to Los Angeles from New York City had to stop in Denver after a passenger assaulted a flight attendant, causing broken bones. The incident didn’t stem from an issue with masks, according to American Airlines. Another flight in February from LA to Washington D.C. had to be diverted to Kansas City. In that case, other passengers had to help stop the unruly passenger until the plane landed.

Violence has become such a problem that a federal no-fly list has been proposed, so unruly passengers could no longer fly. It’s unclear whether a no-fly list will ever be approved; a group of GOP Senators has come out against such an idea. As of now, airlines can ban a passenger from flights on that airline, but the airlines cannot share information about passengers for bans beyond a single airline. 

So, there are two issues happening at the same time: Airlines want to return to normal, but that won’t happen until the violence subsides or is eliminated. Passengers need to feel safe. Regardless of whether the no-fly list is implemented, airlines and the Department of Transportation (DOT) might try to do more to reduce the number of violent incidents. 

Right now, change is in the air, but much of that change is yet to come. There is not much for consumers to do for that change now besides voice their opinion to the DOT. Otherwise, the best action for consumers: be nice to flight attendants and all airline and airport workers. They are working during a time of increased violence and understaffing, so patience and kindness can go a long way.


Jacob van Cleef

Former Consumer Watchdog, Associate, PIRG

Find Out More