Hearing

Disruption in the Skies: The Surge in Air Rage and its Effects on Workers, Airlines, and Airports

2167 Rayburn House Office Building and online via videoconferencing

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0 Thursday, September 23, 2021 @ 10:00 | Contact: Justin Harclerode 202-225-9446

This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Aviation.

Witnesses:

  • Sara Nelson, International President, Association of Flight Attendants – CWA | Written Testimony
  • Teddy Andrews, Flight Attendant at American Airlines; appearing on behalf of Association of Professional Flight Attendants | Written Testimony
  • Christopher R. Bidwell, Senior Vice President, Safety, Airports Council International – North America | Written Testimony
  • Lauren Beyer, Vice President, Security and Facilitation, Airlines for America | Written Testimony
  • Opening remarks of Subcommittee on Aviation Ranking Member Garret Graves (R-LA):

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I want to thank you for having this hearing today.  I want to make very clear from the beginning that the behavior we’ve seen in the media in regard to some of the adverse interactions on airplanes is completely unacceptable.  It needs to be a civil experience for everyone on the plane, and obviously there are additional safety considerations for being tens of thousands of feet up in the air in a metal airplane when thinking about this.

    Flight attendants, gate agents, and other airline employees have the right to go to work without the fear of being harassed, intimidated, abused, or assaulted – period.  The FAA is correct for aggressively enforcing the rules and regulations that are applicable to air travel and for holding people accountable for failing to comply, and that unruly and illegal behavior shall not be tolerated – period.

    Data shows that there are more cases of unruly behavior and that we are seeing a spike or increase, and I think it is important to look at the causes, look at how we can mitigate that, and how we can solve the problems.  

    There have been 4,284 complaints of unruly passengers as of September 14, but let’s remember that so far this year, more than 350 million passengers have flown.  So, if you do the math, that’s 0.001  percent.  That’s like comparing the population of New Roads, Louisiana – a town that I represent that you all should go visit – to the population of the entire United States.  So, the vast majority of flights occur without these types of “air rage” incidents.

    I’m worried that this hearing may convey to people on the outside that getting on an airplane is a wild and unruly experience, and I think that it is really important for us to convey to folks that that’s absolutely not the norm.  That’s the exception, and I will say it again, 0.001 percent of passengers have an unruly incident.

    But I also think we have to look at this not just from the perspective of the airlines and airline employees and others.  We have to look at this holistically.  

    I want to provide some statistics.  According to the Kaiser Family Foundation in January 2021, four in 10 adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, up from one in 10 adults in June of 2019.

    Overall, 2020 values show a 50 percent increase in overdose-related cardiac arrest.  The number of March 2020 calls to the Disaster Distress Line at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration was 891 percent higher than March the year before.  And perhaps a little bit closer to home to some of us here, the U.S. Capitol Police have reported 4,135 threats against lawmakers during the first three months of 2021 alone, putting the number of threats on track to double those of last year.

    My point here is that we are seeing increased anxiety in society – whether it’s mental health and depression, domestic violence and substance abuse, or mental distress or other types of challenges across government.

    Now let’s look specifically at the air travel experience from the passenger perspective, and maybe it’s a person or a family that doesn’t travel often. They have to think about packing their bags, getting their bags together, getting everything in the car, getting to the airport on time, finding a parking spot, getting on the shuttle, getting in line at the airport to check bags, getting in line at TSA – and who knows how that experience is going to go.  I recently had a TSA agent make me walk through a metal detector four times because I was told I wasn’t walking through it right.  I don’t even know what that means.

    Now let’s continue.  You then get into the airport and you get to buy your $6 bottle of water, $12 granola bar, and then sit on a plane. And yes, it’s packed.  And just like my flight experience coming here, I got up at 4:00 a.m. earlier this week, left the house at 5:00 a.m., and by the time I walked into the airport and finally got to D.C. after various problems, it was eight or nine hours later – and wearing a mask the entire time.

    Mr. Chair, I am glad we are having this hearing, and I think it is really important that we look at this from the passenger perspective as well.  I met with Tampa Airport yesterday, and one of the people I met with used the phrase “trying to decompress the experience.”

    How do we look at this holistically and try to decompress the entire flying experience – from parking, to TSA, to bags, and everything else – to make it a lower-stress experience.

    I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today and I am hopeful that we can move in a direction that truly is productive. I am excited and optimistic that some of the data the FAA released today showed a significant decline in air rage incidents, and I hope we can build upon that success.

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