Following a significant increase in unruly passenger behavior across the country, both Southwest and American Airlines
have extended suspensions of alcoholic beverages to in-flight passengers.
American Airlines made the announcement in an internal memo sent to flight attendants on Saturday and obtained by Stardia, one day after Southwest made a similar decision following an assault
on a flight attendant that resulted in the loss of two teeth.
“Every day, flight attendants are on the front lines not only ensuring our customers’ safety, but also calming fears, answering questions, and enforcing policies such as federally mandated face masks
,” American Airlines stated in a memo.
“Over the past week, we’ve seen some of these stressors create deeply disturbing situations on board aircraft,” the memo continued. “Let me be clear: American Airlines will not tolerate assault or mistreatment of our crews.”
In a statement to Stardia on Sunday, a Southwest Airlines
representative said the decision to extend the suspension, which was supposed to end this summer, was made “given the recent uptick in industry-wide incidents of passenger disruptions in flight.”
“We understand that this decision may be disappointing for some Customers, but we believe it is the right decision at this time in the interests of the safety and comfort of all Customers and Crew onboard,” said spokesperson Chris Mainz.
In a statement issued Saturday, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American Airlines flight attendants, applauded the decision to extend the alcohol ban while also expressing concern about the rise in physical
violence on flights.
“It is no secret that the threats Flight Attendants face on a daily basis have dramatically increased; every day, we are subjected to verbal and sometimes physical altercations, primarily centered on mask compliance,” said the union’s president, Julie Hedrick. “These altercations are frequently exacerbated when customers have consumed alcohol in the airport or alcohol they have brought onboard.”
Alcohol was initially suspended by the airlines at the start of the pandemic
in 2020 in an effort to minimize interactions between crew and passengers and to ensure general safety. Hedrick said it will not be returned to American Airlines’ Main Cabin until at least mid-September, when a federal mask mandate
is set to be lifted.
The Federal Aviation Administration
received approximately 2,500 reports of unruly passenger behavior since January, including approximately 1,900 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal face mask mandate, according to a statement released last week.
Witnesses told local media
that a recent incident involving a Southwest flight attendant in San Diego
was also sparked by a passenger failing to fully comply with the mask requirement.
Following a number of "troubling incidents" on planes, the FAA
announced in January that it would implement a stricter "zero tolerance" policy for unruly passengers.
Previously, passengers would have received a warning, counseling, or civil penalties; now, anyone who interferes with, physically assaults, or threatens to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft faces fines
and imprisonment of up to $35,000 and imprisonment.
This policy was supposed to end at the end of March, but it was extended due to ongoing incidents.