When airline passengers misbehave

Airline stewardess Lia Ocampo

By Cristina DC Pastor

Flight attendant Lia Ocampo has had her share of defiant airline passengers chortling in disdain when told to wear face masks while boarding the plane. Some travelers with ‘attitude’ tell her to her face “just let me go home” in an angry tone.

So far, she has not figured in a situation where a passenger has been verbally or physically abusive. Media reports have streamed instances where flight crew are bullied, yelled out or violently attacked as when a Southwest Airlines attendant lost two teeth in a physical assault by a passenger in July of this year.

“I never confronted a passenger about vaccine mandates. Flight attendants don’t deal with that information,” said Ocampo in an email to The FilAm. “When I encounter a passenger not wearing a face mask, I explain that the company’s policy and federal law are in place for their health and safety and everyone onboard.”

Alvin Adriano, a travel podcaster and CEO of Travelwise International, said airlines have seen a large increase in unruly passengers since the implementation of the travel protocols due to the pandemic. He said many of the incidents were due to travelers’ refusal to comply with safety instructions, such as wearing masks. “About 70 percent were due to mask regulations,” he told The FilAm.

Alvin Adriano, travel podcaster and CEO of a travel agency

Citing data from the International Air Transport Association, Adriano said, “Based on IATA reports, there have been 6.7 unruly passengers for every 10,000 flights.”

Federal Aviation Administration data, as of October, shows 3,615 incidents of unruly passengers and 610 investigations initiated so far in 2021, according to a Yahoo report. 

As a travel professional, Adriano said, “We always inform and educate our clients on the current travel protocols for every airline and destination. We always recommend wearing a mask and traveling safe.”

Ocampo shared with amusement how passengers have used a variety of ruse to avoid wearing masks. “Some are taking an unreasonable amount of time to eat and drink. Some pretend to sleep while their mask falls off.”

Dealing with passengers at this time of heightened emotional tension can be “challenging, she said, as the pandemic has caused stress, anxiety, sadness, fear, and loneliness. “People’s behavior has been affected. Some of us bring our stress and anxiety when we travel, sometimes resulting in misdemeanor, misconduct, assault, threats, attacks, and outrage on the plane.”

There’s a technique to communicating with passengers, she said further. “How we communicate and approach them sometimes determines their compliance. Talking to them professionally in a caring and empathetic tone, recognizing their concerns, and reassuring them of their safety are tools to prevent pushbacks.”

She said she treats passengers equally whether they are in first-class or the main cabin. “I anticipate my customers to be nice so that the positive energy would radiate to them, and they will treat me nice.”

Ocampo has been an airline stewardess for eight years. She said her passion for flying has allowed her to meet people, create memories, and inspired her to write a book titled, “I Love Flying.”

New normal

For those in the travel industry, the risks from frazzled passengers will always be there. They are trained to deal with people who are unable to manage stress during travel and are prepared to handle touchy situations using messaging that informs and educates.

Wearing a mask is the “new normal,” shared Adriano. “I would not be surprised if this continues for months to come. It is important to understand that travel continues to evolve, and that effective communication is important.”

© The FilAm 2021

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