(CNN) – Your checklist for air travel this holiday season: High-quality, comfortable masks; hand sanitizer; early airport arrival; And it’s easy to remove jackets, shoes, laptops and toiletries to the security checkpoint.
Yet according to flight attendants, pre-planning may not prepare you for the full reality of flying in 2021 — and it’s not just Covid-19.
“You may have seen news reports this year on disruptive passengers or conflicts on board airlines,” said Sarah Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.
“More than 5,000 disruptive passenger reports have been sent to the union aviation administration Since the beginning of this year,” Nelson said. “There is more disruption in 2021 than in the entire 31-year history of recording such behavior. And we haven’t finished the year yet!”
CNN spoke to Nelson about what we want to know about disruptive travelers before they board a plane to visit friends and relatives for the holidays.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sarah Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, works on a journey before the pandemic.
Courtesy Association of Flight Attendants-CWA
Sarah Nelson: First, it is very likely that a lot of people are traveling for the first time since the pandemic began. And they’ve forgotten, or simply don’t know, that air travel has a whole set of rules in place to keep everyone safe.
You have to go through security and practically to show that you are not a threat. You can’t smoke – we did that centuries ago. Everyone has to wear their seat belts and keep their seats and tray tables up.
Those federal rules are there to make sure we’re keeping a safe place for everyone who travels, because not everyone can get vaccinated yet. And it is very important that people understand why the rules are in place. That’s why I am stressing so much on it.
We really won’t be safe unless everyone follows the rules and we approach it with the feeling that we are all in this together.
But something big is happening here. Many people are worried about the masks as it has been made a trigger point by many politicians which people are listening to.
I am a flight attendant of 25 years, and throughout my career we see the effect on airplanes when something was going on in this country, socially or politically. And it’s absolutely supercharged this year.
A sign about the federal mask requirement is seen as passengers prepare to check-in at Miami International Airport on February 01, 2021, the day the new rule took effect.
Joe Redl / Getty Images
CNN: What impact do these incidents have on aircraft safety?
Nelson: This is affecting the flight attendant’s ability to do his job. Before 9/11 we were the first responders to safety and health emergencies on board. But after 9/11, we also became the last line of defense of aviation security against terrorism.
These disruptions on board are not only a danger to the crew and you, the flier, due to the potential for direct injury to people in these violent explosions, but they are distracting to the flight crew. They are potentially putting us in the position of missing signals for other threats, or larger threats, such as a coordinated attack.
It’s something that people who want to do us big harm are also looking at, and wondering, “Is this a new tactic we can use to get distracted?”
Now that’s not something I want people to think about when they’re flying to see their loved ones. I want to be very clear about this. It is our job to identify these issues.
But I am explaining this because I want to be clear about why we take these incidents so seriously. We don’t want anyone on board to get hurt. But there is an even greater danger.
CNN: Are other passengers at risk if these disruptions occur?
Nelson: Possibly. You could be exposed to an outright brawl, or be smacked by someone who is running around. There are incidents where there is conflict and violence on passengers. We have had a few instances where people have gotten into the cockpit. And this is a matter of very serious concern.
Surely your journey may get interrupted. When someone is refusing to wear a mask or a seat belt, we are not going to walk out of the gate if they are refusing to cooperate. And if it’s in the air, and the conflict is bad enough, your flight may be diverted.
So you don’t want these things happening on your plane because of the risk of injury, and the risk of your travel being interrupted, causing you to miss connections and then family events.
Now the conflict is not always about masks. Some of the recent violent incidents had nothing to do with masks at all.
Air travel volume on Thanksgiving is expected to be close to pre-pandemic levels. This photo was taken during the holiday period at the Seattle-Tacoma International Aproto last year
David Ryder / Getty Images
People are getting nervous about any sort of safety instruction: “Put your tray table up. Can you please bring your seat back up so you’re not on the knees of the man behind you?” any kind of instruction.
People don’t like being told they can’t drink. And the fact that they’re drinking also adds to some acting out because they do things they probably wouldn’t have done if they weren’t drunk.
Some of these have been racially charged. According to a survey of flight attendants, disruptions are accompanied by hatred of gender, race and homosexuality in 61% of incidents.
CNN: What are the warning signs of a pending dispute and what do you advise people to do when they are on their flight?
Nelson: Look for angry behavior, such as people cursing. We have people who punched behind seats or punched their own hands. Any kind of violent or threatening behavior and any form of abuse is usually a clue.
We recommend that you consult a flight attendant at the first sign of trouble so that we can try to de-escalate the situation. We are trained in descaling, and also how to direct other people to help. So unless there is an imminent risk of injury to people, we really advise travelers not to act on their own as they may inadvertently make the situation worse.
If you are sitting next to the brawl, do not press your flight attendant’s button, as this could put you in position. If you can, get up and go to the galley and tell the crew members, or try to close your eyes with someone in a few seats to talk to the crew or push their call button to get their attention. To be.
Look around and see if you have other assistants, other witnesses. We really encourage people to be a good witness — just don’t let your head down.
CNN: What if you’re traveling with kids?
Nelson: The best thing to do would be to try to get yourself out of the situation. This may be impossible because you are sitting and there is no way to get around it. Move your child to a window or wherever possible away from the action. Try to cover up your kids and call for help.
But I want to emphasize that these incidents are happening to a relatively small group of people. And people really do respond to the tone that’s set on board or at the airport, so I can’t stress enough to take a moment to talk with your family and be kind and patient with you. How important is it to think about
If you are being a good witness and becoming aware and wanting to be a helper, it will create a tone that will help improve your experience.
I also want to stress that we are not ready to accept this as the new normal. We are continuing to work with airlines, airports and the federal government. One thing that was very, very important is that the Justice Department has started prosecuting publicly.
And as people see that it has dire consequences, we hope it helps people understand that you don’t work in an airport or a plane.