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American Airlines says it won’t stand by as flight attendant assaults rise

American Airlines plane
Tom Pennington
Getty Images
American Airlines furloughed nearly 20,000 employees on Oct. 1, 2020.

A flight that was originally supposed to go from New York to California was diverted to Colorado, after a passenger physically assaulted a flight attendant.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker called the attack one of the worst displays of unruly behavior the airline had witnessed.

“While the world reopening brings many positive aspects, there's been a very disturbing downside,” Parker said in a video posted to Instagram. “We've all seen the reports of unruly behavior, people showing extreme disrespect, anger, and impatience toward each other. Well, that is certainly not the case on the overwhelming majority of flights. This is happening far too often.”

The investigation is still ongoing, but Association of Professional Flight Attendants communications chair Paul Hartshorne Jr. said there are myriad reasons for a rise in attacks like these since the start of the pandemic.

“Everything from mask compliance to abuse of alcohol in the terminal before passengers board, and then just general disagreements between passengers,” Hartshorne said.

Parker said the airline also plans to work with the FBI and the Federal Aviation Association to take legal action.

“As for this individual, I can guarantee you, he will never be allowed to fly American Airlines again. That is not enough,” Parker said. “This type of behavior has to stop, and the best deterrent is aggressive criminal prosecution.”

The flight attendant has received medical care for a broken nose and is resting at her home.

As a result of this rise in attacks, Hartshorne says the APFA is working with the FAA and the Department of Transportation to remove common factors that contribute to these attacks.

“There are a number of things we're asking for, including, increased police presence in the terminals, we’re asking the association to not have to-go alcohol in airports, because we see in our reports, as I said earlier, that alcohol is a major driver and a lot of these not all but a lot of these disruptions and attacks onboard our aircraft,” he said.

“This doesn't only injure the flight attendants, as these life threatening dangerous incidents continue. We don't want it to affect the safety of the passengers on board and the safe operation of the aircraft. We need to get this under control.”

Haya Panjwani is a general assignment reporter for KUT. She also served as a legislative fellow for The Texas Newsroom during the 2021 legislative session.