A Southwest Airlines flight attendant was assaulted by a passenger and lost two teeth in the attack last weekend, according to a union president, who complained to the airline’s CEO about unruly passengers.
“Unfortunately, this is just one of many occurrences,” said the union president, Lyn Montgomery. She said there were 477 incidents of “misconduct” by passengers on Southwest planes between April 8 and May 15.
A Southwest spokesman said Tuesday that the incident happened Sunday morning after a flight from Sacramento landed in San Diego.
“The passenger repeatedly ignored standard inflight instructions and became verbally and physically abusive upon landing,” said the spokesman, Chris Mainz. He said police were asked to meet the plane when it arrived in San Diego, and the passenger was taken into custody.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday that airlines have reported 2,500 incidents of unruly passengers this year, including 1,900 cases in which passengers refused to wear face masks, which are required by federal rule. The FAA provided those numbers as it announced it was seeking civil penalties totaling $54,500 against five passengers for behavior ranging from refusing to wear a mask to assaulting flight attendants.
Montgomery, the president of Local 556 of the Transport Workers Union, wrote about the weekend attack in a letter to Southwest CEO Gary Kelly.
Montgomery asked Kelly to lobby federal officials for more federal air marshals on flights and to ban passengers who violate rules instead of putting them on another flight. She said flight attendants are concerned about Southwest resuming sale of alcohol on board planes. Many recent cases that have caught FAA’s attention involve passengers who were drinking.
The FAA announced in January a "zero-tolerance" policy toward passengers who "cause disturbances on flights or fail to obey flight crew instructions in violation of the FAA’s regulations or engage in conduct proscribed by federal law." Instead, the agency said, it will launch legal enforcement actions. Penalties can includes fines and jail terms for passengers who assault or threaten airline crews or other passengers.
As airlines continue to see a dramatic increase in unruly and dangerous passenger behavior on commercial flights, federal officials have responded with heftier fines aimed at deterring disruptive conduct. Last week, the agency proposed a civil penalty of $52,500 — its biggest fine ever — against a man who was arrested after trying to open the cockpit door and striking a flight attendant in the face on a Dec. 23 Delta airlines flight from Honolulu to Seattle. The largest fine the agency can seek is $35,000, but multiple offenses can result in higher penalties, the FAA said.