Stressful flight environment + pandemic = outbreak of unruly passengers at SLC airport


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On New Year’s Eve, travelers at Salt Lake City International Airport witnessed just one example of an increasingly common event – an unruly passenger disrupted boarding.

According to court documents, a 30-year-old woman allegedly disrupted a flight that was due to depart, prompting the airline to remove her and revoke her flying privileges. The airline refunded her ticket but the woman refused to leave the gate area.

In response, police officers were unable to coax her to leave, so they arrested her, tying her hands behind her back while she resisted, the officers wrote in a report of the incident. Video taken by nearby tourists shows the woman trying to run away from police, screaming and using obscene words.

The woman was arrested for disorderly conduct, obstructing police and assaulting an officer – she allegedly kicked an officer. She was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail but was released without charge.

This is one of the more unusual incidents at the airport, said Captain Stefhan Bennett of the Salt Lake City Airport Police Department, but it is not the only one.

“I find it strange that adults act this way,” Bennett said, “and I have been a police officer for 26 years.”

The shuffling of airlines was such a problem that the Federal Aviation Administration established dashboard for data regarding unruly passengers. Nearly 6,000 unruly passengers have been reported and more than 4,000 incidents involving masks.

The FAA also began investigating more than 1,000 incidents in 2021 – 10 times more than in 2020.

Deterrence and prosecution of disruption

At Salt Lake City Airport alone, more than 15 people were arrested for alleged intoxication in 2021, according to data requested by The Salt Lake Tribune. Police arrested eight people for disorderly conduct and at least one for urinating in public.

Federal law prohibits passengers from assaulting, threatening, intimidating or interfering with flight crew members. The FAA can recommend fines of up to $37,000 for each rule violation, and one incident can lead to multiple violations.

The US Department of Justice will also prioritize prosecuting unruly passengers who violate air travel laws, according to a November memo from Attorney General Merrick Garland.

“Passengers who assault, threaten, and threaten violence against flight crews and flight attendants not only cause harm to those employees; Garland writes. “Similarly, when a passenger engages in violent behavior toward other passengers in the close quarters of a commercial airliner, that behavior endangers everyone on board.”

Salt Lake City Airport is also considering prosecution as a way to deal with disruptive and potentially violent travelers. The airport will now pay for victims or witnesses of an incident to return to Salt Lake City to testify in cases against passengers who caused the riot.

Previously, Volmer said, victims would not want to be charged for the hassle or cost of legal action away from home, and cases would be excluded for disruptive travelers.

Usually, the victim or witness will refuse to charge, police Captain Bennett said, leaving police in a state of “no person” to prosecute.

“We believe it is important for unruly passengers to face the consequences to prevent such behavior from happening in the future,” Volmer said. “Passengers need to understand that if they act in violation, especially on the plane, they will face consequences and may not be allowed to board the plane for a very long time.”

Passengers’ emotions boil

Since airport and plane travel can be stressful for many people, University of Utah psychology professor CJ Powers says it’s not surprising that many situations bubble into heated confrontations. . Add to the stress of the pandemic, people are even more at risk of causing the scene.

“When someone explodes, you can imagine their pot of emotions boiling over,” says Powers. “People, their basal pot temperature per population is probably a little higher. We all need a little less activation to [go off]. ”

The politicization of the pandemic has also increased confrontations between those wearing masks and those not wearing masks. A person without a mask might see someone telling them to put on a mask as a representation of politicians in power taking away their freedom. A person who asks others to wear a mask may find that person ignorant and dangerous around because of the higher possibility of disease spread.

“It’s not just about putting a piece of cloth on your face,” says Powers. “It’s really about what it stands for.”

What to do when disturbed?

If you’re at the Salt Lake City Airport and see a disturbance, talk to airport or airline staff – they should be able to contact the airport’s control center to send help, Volmer speak. If you can’t find an employee, call 911.

Powers has some tips on how to deal with an airplane confrontation, though you can’t ignore it.

First, when you feel anger rising, remember that you are talking to another person, who may be just as stressed as you are.

Second, ask yourself if it’s “worth it” to argue. Most of the times, he says, it’s not.

Third, try to stay calm when talking to other people, even if they don’t. If you need to ask someone to put on a mask, don’t accuse and ask tactfully instead.

“If someone doesn’t think wearing a mask is a big deal, you’re not going to change their mind,” Powers said. “But you can ask someone to wear their mask.” Stressful flight environment + pandemic = outbreak of unruly passengers at SLC airport

Yasmin Harisha

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