• August




With about 4,000 incidents of unruly passengers on American air carriers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, flight attendants are trying to even the odds of ending their shifts in one piece by taking self-defense classes.

The worrisome increase in in-flight violence by passengers has made airliner cabins a potentially perilous place to work. Taught by federal air marshals, the focused curriculum of the classes is specifically aimed at handling problem passengers in those close quarters.

“We are finding that our jobs are harder than ever,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. “Conflict is rising very quickly. When we can’t get to that and diffuse that because we have so much going on … problems can become big very quickly.”

Donna O’Neil is one of those enrolled in the training program. While practicing using an elbow smash, she said, “I don’t ever want to use any of this. But if I had to, I certainly feel much more confident.”

With only a small percentage of flights having air marshals on board, the flight crew is the first – and sometimes only – line of defense against in-flight violence.

Air marshal supervisor Noel Curtain said, “There’s no backup at 30,000 feet.”

Story Credit: Virginia Department of Aviation

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