Business Insider Edition

Flight attendants discuss how they're trained to handle out-of-control violent incidents aboard flights

David Slotnick , Business Insider US
 Jul 30, 2019, 01:14 PM
A flight attendant holds her head in her hands as a woman charges up the aisle to confront her seatmate.
YouTube/Julia Scorupcos
  • A viral video last week showed a woman shouting, cursing, and assaulting her seatmate - presumably her romantic partner - on an American Airlines flight from Miami.
  • The plane was still at the gate, so the violent passenger was removed safely. But what happens in a scenario where the person won't leave willingly? Or if the plane was already in the air?
  • Business Insider spoke with flight attendants to find out how they would handle a domestic incident like this aboard a flight.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider South Africa.

An American Airlines passenger was thrown off a flight last week after berating her travel companion and smashing a laptop on him while the plane was still at the departure gate, according to a viral video of the incident.

The video shows the woman and a man, who appear to be in a romantic relationship. The woman screams at him, accusing him of looking at other women and shouting various profanities and racial slurs.

Eventually the man - who is in the window seat - moves past the woman and begins making his way down the aisle. She chases him, pushing him and hitting him on the head with a laptop.

Throughout the video, flight attendants plead with the woman to calm down and stop shouting. Eventually, one of them asks the woman to take her bag and move to the front of the plane, presumably to get off, while the woman refuses. They ask the man to move instead, which is when his travel companion chased him down the aisle.

The woman tried to get back to her seat after that, and the flight attendant blocks her. The woman ends up pushing past, grabbing her bag, and leaving the plane willingly, though a pilot comes out of the cockpit to tell her that she's going to be arrested by police.

Ultimately, the entire video was less than two minutes long, and the fact that the plane was still at the gate made it easy to remove the passenger - if she hadn't left willingly, or she continued assaulting her partner or others, the flight crew also could have requested police or other assistance.

But what happens when the plane has already left the gate, or is in the air, far away from the closest airport?

Business Insider spoke with several flight attendants who explained how they're prepared to deal with incidents like this, including domestic violence, both on the ground and in the air (Business Insider is not publishing their names, as they spoke without permission from their employers).

"Every airport has a customer service representative who is specifically trained to deal with sensitive issues and removing passengers," an American Airlines flight attendant who had seen the video told Business Insider. "If we were still at the gate with the door open, I'd immediately notify the captain and gate agents that we were likely going to need a passenger removed."

A still from the video showing the woman smashing her boyfriend with the Dell laptop.
YouTube/Julia Scorupco

In a case as severe as the one in the video, even if the situation deescalated before the person was removed, the flight crew would still likely request the passenger be taken off the plane.

"The way she was yelling, cursing, hitting, and threatening, there's basically no way it could be resolved to the point where she could be allowed to get back on the plane," the flight attendant said. "We have levels of threats, and she was already at a level 2 by hitting people."

Ultimately, putting an end to the situation is relatively straightforward on the ground, but once a plane is in the air, things get a lot more complicated.

"If a situation like that occurred in the air, we'd usually try to separate the parties involved," another flight attendant, who is based in Chicago, said. "Reseat them and try to calm them down, and ask for assistance from other passengers if it would be helpful."

The main key is to deescalate the situation, whether that can be accomplished by separating the passengers, simply speaking with them, or informing them of what may need to happen if the situation can't be resolved - like landing at the nearest airport or being arrested once on the ground.

"We might even issue a passenger-disturbance report, which outlines potential repercussions," the American Airlines flight attendant said.

As a last resort, if the situation becomes physical and can't be deescalated, the flight crew may have to restrain the person.

US flight attendants usually have access to some kind of restraint, such as "flex-cuffs" that can be used in that scenario.

"We're trained to handle situations if the person needs to be restrained," the Chicago-based flight attendant said.

"If we had to cuff or subdue a violent passenger, we'd probably ask other passengers to volunteer to help us," the American Airlines flight attendant said. "We do take self-defense training, too."

When the plane lands, either at its original destination or, if the situation calls for it, at a closer airport, the instigator will most likely be arrested and charged. Federal law prohibits interfering with, intimidating, or ignoring instructions from a flight crew. The pilots will call ahead for assistance, and police will meet the plane when it lands, according to the flight attendant from Chicago.

"Pilots are notified of any situation on the aircraft," he said. "So that the company can arrange any assistance on the ground."

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