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Security Breached at 38,000 Feet

Just about 55 years ago, my dad took my two younger brothers and myself from Billings MT to Salt Lake City. It didn’t really matter that we were going to my grandmother’s funeral; we were going on an airplane. Back then, it was a privilege to fly. While we were not exactly at 38,000 feet in the air, I know there was not anyone on board who wanted to pick a fight or abuse the flight crew.

Air travel has changed, and not for the better in many cases.

During the week of Halloween, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines were the latest to have to deal with “domestic terrorism” at 38,000 feet. Where does this behavior come from?

According to the FAA, through October, there have been 4,941 unruly passenger reports. Of those, 3,580 were mask-related incidents. While some people are opposed to masking up, federal and airline guidelines are clear. Masks are required. Period. Even more disturbing is the interference with the duties of a crewmember.

In late October, a male passenger chose to exhibit disorderly conduct while trying to open the cockpit door. Flight attendants tried to restrain him, when violence followed stupidity. He punched one flight attendant in the face, twice. The man earned a $52,500 fine and banned from travel on Delta.

Similarly, an American passenger now banned for life for physically assaulting a female flight attendant. The flight attendant accidently bumped the passenger while moving through the aisle. The flight attendant apologized from the action, which is clearly an accident. The errant passenger left his seat, confronted the crewmember, and punched her in the face at least twice.

This type of behavior has moved beyond atypical to an event happening on too many flights. This is a breach of security on every level. The airlines are trying to counter this disruptive behavior by banning that person from all future flights on that particular airline. Perhaps it would help if unruly passengers were permanently banned from airline travel on all commercial airlines.

American CEO Doug Parker said this incident is “one of the worst displays of unruly behavior” the airline has ever witnessed.

"Let me assure you, American Airlines will not tolerate airport or in-flight misconduct of any kind, particularly toward our crew members or airport team," Parker said, adding the airline is working with the FAA, which is authorized to issue fines of up to $50,000 for incidents like this.

Like it or not, feeling secure on a flight is paramount. Traveling by air is still a privilege.

This article originally appeared in the November / December 2021 issue of Security Today.

About the Author

Ralph C. Jensen is editor-in-chief of Security Today magazine.

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