This week, a series of videos taken by passengers on an American Airlines flight from Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) to Orlando (MCO) showed the web what “War of the Worlds” or “X-Files” might look like in the air: including alien scares and pass-along hysteria. A passenger was filmed screaming about a seatmate who “wasn’t real.” “You all can die up here if you want to but I’m getting off,” she yelled while those around her filmed the scene and posted it to TikTok where it went viral as “#ladyontheplane.”
The aircraft went back to the gate, and the passenger and everyone else was forced to deplane, restaff and leave hours later. Subsequent viral videos queried, “Who is the lady on the plane, and what did she see?” and blew up the internet since Sunday when the Orson Wellesian event occurred.
The Real Issue Behind the Viral Frenzy: Intoxicated Passengers
Amidst the conjecture and hysteria, some truths are evident. On the same day (Sunday, July 2) a passenger flying on a British Airways flight from the UK to the Caribbean got drunk, raided the galley, broke a bottle and stabbed a fellow passenger. Others on the flight said the group of men he was traveling with were served alcohol although they were rowdy and already visibly drunk.
Some passengers in the “lady on the plane” incident said that the passenger had been drinking to excess in the airport prior to boarding (this cannot be verified).
However, statistics prove that passengers routinely and regularly fly while intoxicated: getting on planes in an intoxicated state and drinking to excess in flight. Add to this the fact that assaults against flight attendants have risen exponentially since Covid lockdowns.
A national survey of nearly 5,000 flight attendants released in 2021 by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO (AFA) found that over 85% of all respondents had dealt with unruly passengers. More than half (58%) had experienced at least five incidents that year. And 17% reported experiencing a physical incident. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has also recorded statistics showing that many of the incidents recorded involve alcohol. In 2022, The FAA investigated 831 unruly passenger incidents, up from 146 four years earlier.
Currently, there are no breathalyzer tests for passengers at TSA checkpoints and flight attendants are not easily able to deny customers more drinks if they board in a pre-inebriated state.
This March, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) re-introduced the “Protection from Abusive Passengers Act” to help flight attendants keep themselves and passengers safe from growing mayhem in the air. The Act would prohibit violent passengers from flying after being convicted of assaulting aviation workers. Any passengers who assault a pilot, flight attendant or flight crew will not be able to fly, period. In a press release on the reintroduction of the bill, Swalwell said: “Unfortunately, too many of our pilots, flight attendants and crew members are dealing with unacceptable abuse from passengers—everything from kicking to spitting to biting. Our bill will ground the handful of bad actors who continue to travel while protecting airline employees and the traveling public.”
Swalwell told Smart Meetings: “The abuse of unruly passengers onboard aircrafts must stop. There needs to be real accountability to protect aircraft crewmembers and the traveling public. That’s why I re-introduced the Protection from Abusive Passengers Act in March with Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). I will be filing my legislation as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization legislation, which will be considered in the House in the next couple of weeks.”
AFA has also put forward pleas for limits to alcohol on board but currently, there is little codified legislation on the issue.
In the meantime, flight attendants and passengers will continue to have to deal with flights delayed and canceled because of “unreal” seatmates and other things that go bump in the night and in flight.