It feels like nobody knows how to act right now. And who can blame us?
A combination of crummy weather and staff shortages across airlines brought us canceled flights, congested airports, and crowded planes. None of this bodes well for the spread of the variant, and it makes travel even more anxiety-inducing.
Ideally, we’d all band together, stay as safe as possible, and try to ease our collective misery. Of course, this is not happening. In fact, the opposite is the case. Now planes are like the lawless wild west just like they were when vaccine rollouts spurred the first wave of domestic and international travel.
Once again, too many travelers are being total pricks.
In-flight violence involving unruly passengers and flight staff became so common in 2021 that Southwest and American Airlines suspended their alcohol service for a while. The Federal Aviation Administration received thousands of reports of aggressive behavior from rowdy passengers. Most stemmed from flight attendants merely requesting that passengers keep their masks in place. Needless to say, there are some insane people catching flights these days.
Just a year ago in January 2021, a drunken Brit named Daniel Hendry was asked by Samuel Prioetti to please put on a mask. Hendry — who had consumed three-quarters of a bottle! of his own vodka — mocked the Ryanair flight attendant, calling him a "fascist" for making such a request. "Fuck off! I'm going to punch you! Smash your head in!" he yelled out before headbutting Prioetti and then attempting to grope a female attendant. The incident escalated so intensely that the pilot increased the speed of the plane, landing in Manchester 25 minutes early so Hendry could be arrested.
Back in December, a similar event unfolded on a JetBlue flight out of New York, with an inebriated passenger blatantly drinking from his own bottle with no mask on. Flight attendants asked that he stop drinking and put a face mask on. Both requests he vehemently denied. He then became so disruptive that the plane had to circle back to JFK and make an emergency landing.
While intoxicated antics like these have been widespread for a while, a few encounters that flight attendants have had to deal with were legitimately kuh-razy. An unhinged man on a Delta flight from LA to Nashville tried to open the cockpit door. The flight staff pinned the man and physically restrained him. The man even punched a flight attendant in the face.
Another passenger threatened to blow up a plane after it got delayed on the runway.
Some of last year’s batshit incidents didn't even occur between staff and passengers. A Southwest Airlines flight to Fort Lauderdale was forced to make an emergency landing after a woman attacked the man she was traveling with. She smashed a cell phone on his head, and then it caught fire and exploded! Recently, two men had to be escorted off a plane after they got into a fistfight over who got to use the armrest.
One would hope that these incidents would have petered off towards the end of the year and into the new year, but that’s just wishful thinking. In fact, plane behavior has gotten worse!
On a Delta flight from Tampa to Atlanta on December 23rd, a viral video showed an unmasked woman hitting a man over the head before being detained and taken into custody. She was certainly not filled with the holiday spirit.
Entering the new year, viral social media posts and anecdotes are exposing people who knowingly fly while infected with Covid. Though sneakier than throwing punches and fits, this is perhaps the most egregious plane behavior of all.
So why are people being such dicks? It's a combination of factors. Compared to 2020, air travel increased exponentially, so naturally, that brought a backlog of toxic individuals into the mix.
The politicization of masks, vaccines, and boosters means that when airline staff politely ask a person to mask up, they’re unsure of the potential response. But the sad truth is that this unleashing of unhinged aggression has only just begun.
"We have just never seen anything like this," Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants said in a meeting with federal aviation officials. "We've never seen it so bad."
That's what 2020 said. Then 2021 came along and said, "Buckle up. Brace for turbulence.” 2022 is looking like more of the same.