We’ve been hearing about the dangerous “delta variant” of the coronavirus. On Friday, June 11th, 2021, another dangerous “Delta” variant emerged. In this case, it wasn’t a virus that was causing havoc. It was yet another passenger on a transcontinental Delta flight. And this particular “disruptive” passenger wasn’t just any rank and file person; it was an off duty Delta flight attendant.
A couple of days ago, I heard about the scary Delta flight that was forced to divert to Oklahoma City due to an “unruly” passenger. The flight, which had taken off from Los Angeles and was bound for Atlanta, went awry when the off duty Delta flight attendant apparently lost his shit mid flight. According to news reports, the unidentified passenger got on the intercom and told passengers to take their seats and prepare to use the oxygen masks. He reportedly attacked two flight attendants and threatened to bring down the plane. Naturally, that made people pretty tense. Next thing everyone knew, the captain made a request for “strong males” to help restrain a problem passenger.
In a widely circulated video, the aggressive passenger’s screams can be heard as several large men wearing face masks tackle him to the ground. A flight attendant asks everyone to take their seats so the man– likely now a former colleague– can be properly restrained.
No one was injured in this incident. After the plane landed in Oklahoma City, law enforcement removed him and took him to a hospital. He was also questioned by the FBI. It’s being said that the flight attendant has “mental health issues”. Gee… you think?
Many people are reacting to this crisis by suggesting huge fines, lifetime bans, and jail time for passengers that freak out on planes. They reason that the reason there’s been a huge uptick in violent behavior on airplanes is because people are just “brats” who need to be punished. But I watched that video involving the guy on the Delta flight. To me, it looks like he has a mental illness. I doubt very seriously that the threat of a huge fine, imprisonment, or a ban on future flights would have prevented his outburst. Something is clearly medically wrong with him. He needs help from a competent psychiatrist, not a jail sentence or a fine.
Think about this. This guy was a flight attendant for Delta. He was probably on his way to work. Flight attendants often take “deadhead” flights to commute to their assignments if they don’t happen to live in the city where the flight originates. Maybe the guy lives in Los Angeles and had to work a flight originating in Atlanta. Or maybe he was on his way home after working.
The fact that the guy was a Delta flight attendant means he went through eight weeks of rigorous training. According to a 2018 era CNBC article, each year, over 100,000 apply to become Delta flight attendants, and less than one percent get hired. So that means he must have had something good going for him prior to that terrible flight during which he, hopefully temporarily, lost his marbles.
I have read that many flight attendants are on the edge of insanity right now, thanks to the huge increase of “unruly passenger incidents” over the past few months. Let’s face it. The events of the past five years have been unprecedented. I remember in 2016, I shared the above photo on social media. In 2021, I look at that photo about how “awful” 2016 was, and realize that we had no idea of what was coming. Seriously… the past five years have been an unprecedented shit show for a lot of people. Many folks who would ordinarily be perfectly calm, normal, law abiding citizens are losing their shit on a daily basis!
According to the Washington Post article I just posted:
The Federal Aviation Administration told The Washington Post this week that it has received about 2,900 reports of unruly passenger behavior since Jan. 1. Roughly 2,200 of those involved passengers who would not comply with the federal mandate to wear a face covering. The agency identified potential violations in 446 of those cases and has started enforcement action in 42.
Those numbers have grown over the past couple of weeks: When the FAA last released an update on May 24, it had gotten 2,500 reports of bad behavior with about 1,900 involving masks. The agency has not tracked the number of such reports from airlines in past years, but it said it investigated a total of 1,548 unruly passenger cases between 2010 and 2020.
So… since January 1, 2021, there have been 2900 reports of “unruly passenger behavior”. Prior to that, from 2010-2020, there were 1,548 reports of “unruly passenger behavior”. That means that in just five months, there have been twice as many “unruly passengers” flying than in the ten years before! That is a HUGE increase.
This phenomenon can’t be happening because every single “unruly passenger” is an unlawful asshole who needs to be straightened out with fines, jail time, and a lifetime ban from flights. People are unusually stressed out and some are legitimately mentally ill. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s much more difficult for those people to access the mental healthcare they need.
Moreover, consider what a pain in the ass flying is even when times are normal. Airports are often busy, stressful places with crowds, noise, and standing in line. Now, everybody has to do that with a face mask on, and increased scrutiny and intolerance from others. I know a lot of people don’t think the masks are a big deal, but the evidence shows that not everyone feels that way. Those people, like it or not, are clearly demanding to be heard.
I have mentioned that I have no desire whatsoever to fly right now. Before the pandemic, we had to contend with high ticket prices, tight seats, inconsiderate recliners, seat kickers, bad food, delays, crowds, and uptight security agents. Now, it seems like there are a lot of people who resent the COVID-19 rules, and a lot of people who are extremely neurotic and hyper-vigilant and demanding about enforcing the rules. Some people are calling for “zero tolerance” rules, which means that every rule violator gets treated the same, regardless of why they are violating the rules. That leads to even more stress than there was before.
Could it be that the Delta flight attendant was possibly dealing with the aftereffects of his very stressful job– a job in which many of his colleagues report increased disrespect and abuse from angry and stressed out passengers? If he also has an organic psychiatric problem, especially if it was untreated, that would only add to the stress. Was he on some kind of medication that he missed? Did he have a psychotic break of some kind? Having watched the video, I can’t agree that he was just someone who was acting like an asshole. He looks like he’s seriously mentally ill. If that’s the case, he has a medical problem, and should be treated as such. We should have some compassion for him instead of insults.
After I read one too many comments about how the airlines need to make things even stricter and more unpleasant for everyone, I had to leave one of my own. I wrote that I didn’t think someone with a mental illness was going to stop and think about zero tolerance policies or onerous consequences before acting out. So those measures won’t do any good. People who are mentally healthy are likely to be cooperative anyway. People who are mentally ill might not be able to help themselves when they freak out.
We wouldn’t punish someone for having a heart attack or a seizure on an airplane, would we? So why would we take those actions when someone has a psychiatric emergency? Psychiatric problems are medical problems, too, and they can often be fixed with medication. I know this from personal experience. The Delta flight attendant who went nuts the other day may be right as rain if he gets appropriate treatment. So why would we ban him from flying for life if all he might need is medical treatment?
Now… if it turns out he was drunk or high or was just being an uncooperative jerk… or he was actually expressing premeditated intentions to hurt people by bringing weapons on the plane– okay. Those people should be punished. There are a lot of inconsiderate assholes out there who probably should be sanctioned. But in this case, I think I’d like to know more about what happened before I would call for a lifetime ban on flying, huge fines, or jail time. If this guy has a mental illness, jail will not help him or society, anyway.
Here’s something else that people may not be considering when they suggest lifetime flying bans. This guy– once a trained Delta flight attendant– must have been normal at some point. Consider that by banning him, the airlines are also going to be banning anyone close to him. I don’t know a thing about this guy’s family situation, but do you think that if Delta bans him, his significant others or children will choose to fly Delta? What about supportive friends and extended family members and their immediate families? That’s a lot of potentially missed revenue for the airlines, and if every single unruly passenger is banned from flying, it could have a serious negative effect on business.
Of course, the counter argument is that people won’t fly unless these “unruly” types don’t get banned. But think about this… how many folks who claim they’ll never fly again are actually going to follow what happens to this man, once he’s out of the news? Maybe someone like me– I like to read follow up news about certain cases. But most people are busier with their lives than I am. They’ll forget all about this once it blows over. A lifetime ban is “forever”, though, and that could have a really serious effect on this guy’s life, even after he gets well. He may not deserve a lifetime ban.
After I wrote my comment that this appears to be a mental health issue and the flight attendant probably wouldn’t have considered the consequences before he acted, the poster to whom I had responded wrote that it would be up to the courts to decide. My response was:
“Exactly. It’s not for you or me or anyone else in the comment section to decide what the appropriate action is in this case. This man needs to be evaluated by a qualified mental health provider, not judged by the masses. Jail would not help someone with a mental health problem and appropriate treatment could make all the difference. I’m sure you would want that kind of forbearance and due process for yourself and your loved ones should you have the misfortune of being affected by a mental illness.”
I honestly doubt this man– who was employed by Delta and no doubt has no doubt felt the huge strain of the past fifteen months, particularly for flight attendants– was planning to act out on this flight. He deserves some consideration for his psychiatric medical problem, if he has one. If clear evidence emerges that he deliberately misbehaved on the flight, that’s another story. Zero tolerance rules usually make zero sense, because every situation is different.
As for me… I continue to avoid flying, if I can. I don’t want to pay for this experience. I would rather wait until things are a bit more under control and “normal”. And I hope this won’t be the “new normal”. We shouldn’t expect that it will be.