(NewsNation) — Being a flight attendant can be a dangerous and scary job, especially with the increase in unruly passengers these days.
Just this week, a disorderly passenger was arrested after he allegedly tried to stab a flight attendant in the neck with a broken metal spoon and open an emergency door on a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Boston.
A Spirit Airlines flight from Dallas to Orlando had to make an emergency landing in Jacksonville, Florida, after the cabin filled with smoke due to a lithium battery that caught on fire in an overhead bin.
Sara Nelson, president of the flight attendant union Association of Flight Attendants, said when distractions are created in the cabin, it takes away from flight attendants’ abilities to monitor the cabin for actual emergencies such as a medical emergency.
“Our job is extremely complicated, and we are aviation’s first responders,” Nelson said. “We respond to emergencies onboard … But since 9/11, we’re also aviation’s last line of defense and aviation security. All of these threats have really threatened the ability for us to do our jobs to keep everyone safe.”
She explained that these distractions in the cabin are incredibly dangerous for everyone onboard, and are distractions from the safety work that flight attendants and pilots need to focus on in order to safely fly the plane.
At one point, some airlines even banned liquor sales on planes in the hope that it would help evade unruly passenger incidents.
Nelson said that alcohol can be a huge contributor that fuels these incidents. However, she said the biggest problem is that staffing levels are at the lowest they have ever been yet the planes are fuller than ever.
“When there’s fewer of us to get to the problem and address that, that means that these little problems that start out as little problems can become very big. And in several cases, it’s the flight attendants who are targeted for these violent attacks,” Nelson said.
Between Jan. 1, 2022 and December 15, 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration investigated 823 reports of unruly behavior – down from 1099 the prior year but vastly more than in past years. The annual average from 2015-2020 was 131 incidents, according to the FAA.