The TSA will train flight attendants in self-defense against unruly passengers


When I travelled for a living, my boss suggested we bring a little treat for our flight attendants. Although I think my boss suggested it to earn favors, I didn’t have favor-earning-treat money, so I’d just pick up a local delicacy because I figured the attendants had to put up with so much crap. They seemed to appreciate the thought, though, and the non-airport food. Turns out I should have gone bigger, because those poor folks are having a hell of a time at 10,000 feet. Passengers have become so unruly and combative post-pandemic, that the TSA will be training flight attendants in self-defense to subdue anyone who poses a threat to themselves or those around them.

Flight attendants are no strangers to unruly passengers. But with the number of people acting up on flights increasing, some have started to learn self-defense.

The Transportation Security Administration is aiming to train hundreds of flight attendants in self-defense over the next few months. The TSA opted to resume the half-day course created in 2004 after putting it on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic as incidents on planes increase.

Carrie, a flight attendant who took a class in the Miami area, told CNN that it’s important for her and her colleagues to be as prepared as possible for physical altercations.

“You get on a plane full of people and some of them are not very happy and you just never know what’s going to happen,” she said.

During the training, flight attendants are taught a slew of skills to help keep themselves and others out of harm’s way. Learning to strike, stomp and subdue a potential attacker tops the list.

Participants in the training also practiced combatting an individual with a deadly weapon, like a knife. Going for the attacker’s eyes and striking them with an elbow is also taught.
“You are going to possibly die. You need to defend yourself at all costs,” an instructor told the trainees in Miami.

A recent survey from the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA detailed the depth of the problem. According to Conde Nast Traveler, 85 percent of flight attendants said they have dealt with an unruly passenger within the last year.

The study also showed 58 percent of those surveyed experienced at least five incidents in the first half of 2021 alone. Of the more than 5,000 individuals across 30 airlines polled between late June and early July, 61 percent of those surveyed said passengers had used sexist, racist, or homophobic slurs against them at some point.

“This survey confirms what we all know, the vitriol, verbal, and physical abuse from a small group of passengers is completely out of control, and is putting other passengers and flight crew at risk,” Sara Nelson, AFA-CWA’s president, said in a statement last Thursday.

[From People]

I have to believe this is further self-defense training. Maybe someone who is, was or knows someone in the flight industry can add some insight, but surely some form of self-defense is a part of basic training? People have been self-medicating due to a fear of flying for years, be it drugs or alcohol. And Spring Breakers aren’t known for their decorum. But it really does sound like it’s gotten worse since the country has reopened. I can see why they’ve resumed more intense training. Last month a woman had to be duct-taped to her seat for the safety of the entire flight because she kept trying to open the plane door. Just this week an entitled douchebag groped and assaulted the flight staff and had to be duct-taped to his seat to restrain him. The victims, btw, were suspended. Fortunately, their union got involved and Frontier reinstated the crew and threw their support behind the staff, which they should have done from the beginning.

I feel like there’s a strong conspiracy to prove we cannot handle returning to life as we once knew it. We’re offered a vaccine for a deadly virus and half the population refuses to take it. We’re allowed to dine out and enjoy music and people pack themselves like sardines, throwing every precaution out the window. We can finally travel and folks star punching out the flight staff. People have taken crazy pills. Those numbers in the article are jaw-dropping. Over half of those surveyed had issues just in the first half of this year alone? We keep talking about the studies that will come out about the impact this pandemic had on us, obviously the psychological ramifications are much deeper than we had any idea. Sheesh, being trapped in an enclosed space is the one thing we should be able to handle at this point. Leave the poor flight staff alone. They have enough to deal with in mask management alone.




Photo credit: Photos by Lukas Souza, ismail mohamed – SoviLe and NeONBRAND on Unsplash

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49 Responses to “The TSA will train flight attendants in self-defense against unruly passengers”

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  1. Swack says:

    Didn’t even read the article but the headline makes me so angry! Tell you what, if I saw an unruly passenger get in a flight attendant’s face, I’d probably jump in to help the flight attendant (am a former teacher who didn’t hesitate to break up fights – never left it to just the male teachers). I fear something will happen in front of my granddaughter come this Sept when we go to Disney. I don’t want her first plane ride to be a bad experience.

    • FHMom says:

      We went to Disney early July. The plane ride was orderly. The courtesy buses to and from the parks were the issue we encountered. Masks were required. Sometimes the bus driver would hand an unmasked person a mask. Sometimes somebody would slip by unmasked and masked people would loudly call them out. For the most part their excuse was that they were vaccinated and didn’t have a mask. (The Disney policy clearly stated masks were required on buses.) I carried a supply of masks with me and handed them out to unmasked passengers. Other people did the same. For the most part, people were there with family to enjoy themselves. I would t worry too much. Enjoy yourselves. A few years ago I was very anti-Disney, but now have decided it’s my happy place.

      • Swack says:

        Thanks! I take my grandchildren when they turned 8 (10 in all). This is my last grandchild to take and we had to wait a year to go. She knows we’ll be masking up and is fine with it. We’ll definitely have fun as she is so excited to go.

  2. Merricat says:

    Ugh, this puts me in such a rage, I may need to leave and come back later when I can be calmer. If a passenger is unruly on a flight, that person should be banned from the airline for at least a year.

    • lanne says:

      banned for life. And no one visibly intoxicated should be allowed to board a plane.

    • Mac says:

      If you have not seen the interview with Alfredo Rivera, Google it right now. He was the flight attendant who restrained the passenger and his retelling of events is epic.

    • Montréalaise says:

      Here’s an ever better idea: have a no-fly list of unruly passengers for ALL airlines. You assaulted a flight attendant? And now you need to get from Seattle to Miami? Here are your options: drive, take a bus or the train (unless Greyhound and Amtrak have banned you, as well) or walk.

  3. Becks1 says:

    It says the TSA started offering this course in 2004 so its been a thing for a while (just suspended for the pandemic) and I would “hope” that each airline offers its own self-defense training as part of training new FAs.

    I didn’t envy FAs before this – obnoxious passengers who blame you for a late flight, missing luggage, whatever – and then factor in security fears after 9/11 – and it must be so stressful and hard. I haven’t flown since 2019 and I’m not sure I’ll fly again before 2022, and I am not looking forward to it because of the other passengers. And FAs dont have a choice.

  4. Roo says:

    I feel you, Swack. I jumped in once to defend a mom traveling with her special needs child, who was making noises during the flight to Latin America. The guy beside her yelled/growled at her child. I was behind her and yelled at him to “stop it. You’re scaring the child.” He was cowed and was like, “I was just playing.” And I didn’t relent. I yelled back “oh, you can’t tell you scared him!?” Then my husband called over a flight attendant to help. The flight attendant asked my husband, in Spanish in order to be discreet, to “please tell your wife to let us handle him.” LOL. I would have thrown down with that guy!

    • Swack says:

      Luckily my flight there is early morning (6:30) and hopefully no one will be drinking a lot. The one back is late morning.

      • Becks1 says:

        Haven’t a lot of the flights banned alcohol again? I know my brother and parents flew in May and alcohol was banned (my brother was annoyed bc he had drink coupons to use up on southwest lol). I think they brought it back for a few weeks but now I think a lot of have banned it again?

    • CooCooCatchoo says:

      Proud of you for stepping in, @Roo. I cannot tolerate bullies. A grown man bullying a disabled child – what a POS

    • Claire says:

      Lol, this made my day! :)

  5. Digital Unicorn says:

    This makes me so mad – what the hell is wrong with people!!!! Alcohol and drugs at those altitudes really bring out the crazy.

    What the hell goes through someone’s mind when they try to open a plane door mid flight!! Nothing I guess.

    • Darla says:

      Do you think so? I have a very bad fear of flying, it’s pretty awful. I always take a couple of xanax and then drink on the plane. I never so much as peep. One time my plane to Seattle (from ny so a really long flight and I was scared believe me), I was so xanax’d out, but no matter how much I take, i don’t sleep on the plane. Anyway, we are taxiing down the runway and a woman literally YELLS out “WHAT’S THAT NOISE”?!

      omg, I almost died. But I still didn’t scream or leave my seat. I very quietly whispered “is there a noise?” and the man next to me, god love him, leaned across the aisle and said “no. that’s the wing and it always makes that noise”. And then he glared at her. lol

      I guess everyone is different but I drink and drug on planes because I’m terrified and I swear, i would never ever make a scene. I think that’s an excuse people use? Like if you’re an ahole you’re an ahole.

      • Digital Unicorn says:

        I think it depends on the person – I know several people who when they’ve had a few turn into a$$holes (lowering inhibitions). Some people can handle it (like you), others can’t.

      • Merricat says:

        Darla, I’m the same way about flying.

      • LadyMTL says:

        Darla, there’s a world of difference between people like you who take a Xanax for anxiety, and douche-canoes who are getting hammered and belligerent just because they can. Those people are looking for an excuse to pop off, and a lot of times they’re already half-drunk (or high, whatever) before they even board the plane.

        You’re not one of them, promise! Or at least, you don’t sound like you are hahaha. ;)

      • North of Boston says:

        I was flying with a friend who was an anxious flyer once, sitting in the back.

        As the plane was taxiing for takeoff, a flight attendant sitting in the jump seat behind us leaned over and said “do you smell smoke? I think I smell smoke”. And I was like are you kidding me??? WHY would you say that to passengers. But my friend didn’t jump up and try to open doors or assault people. Unless I count him squeezing my hand really hard as assault.

        Jerks are going to jerk, between the people acting up because they aren’t getting what they want or whoever the entitled a***** are who think it’s okay to lob slurs at people

        The the egregious ones should absolutely be banned from flying , heck put them on the No Fly list. Let em drive themselves home from Vegas or wherever.

      • Mac says:

        I’d like to see the rap sheet on this guy. I’m guessing this isn’t his first arrest.

  6. Sarah says:

    I once witnessed an angry man grab one of those giant walkie-talkies off the gate desk and throw it at a flight attendant while screaming at her. Luckily, we were still in the airport so he got tased and carried out by security. She wasn’t hit by the walkie-talkie and continued on like nothing had happened.

  7. Sofia says:

    I can’t believe crew have to be trained because people can’t act like decent humans. Self defence is important but I think “be a decent human” should also be emphasised to these people.

  8. Amy Too says:

    I hope this all comes with a huge pay raise as well. Having to be trapped in a plane with a bunch of people during covid over and over and over again is bad enough. Having to be trapped in an enclosed space with a bunch of people while physically fighting one, while breathing heavily in close proximity, while they’re breathing heavily in close proximity, while they might not be wearing a mask, while your mask might slip off, during a pandemic, is wild. This is not okay. There has to be a way to screen this type of behavior. I doubt these people are perfect, quiet, sober, mask wearing angels in the airport, and then they turn into a belligerent, drunk, loud, violent, anti-masker only once the plane takes off. We should all have to sign contracts that say we WILL BE BANNED for life from flying on any plane, from any airline, going anywhere if you do anything like this during the pandemic.

    • Turtledove says:

      There is probably less than a .000000001% chance that they will get a raise. Fuel costs are up, the pandemic had a lot less flying going on. Nope , the FA are all going to work harder, in more danger for the same or less money. It’s gross.

  9. Vera says:

    “Passengers have become so unruly and combative post-pandemic…”
    ??? POST-PANDEMIC ???
    The entire globe, including the U.S., is very much still experiencing a pandemic.

    • Puppydrum says:

      Yeah, my community has just been placed back into lockdown…the pandemic is alive and well…and the receipt of my renewed passport makes me sad. There is no way I’d get on a plane…and the crazies are out in full force.

  10. AmyB says:

    I cannot imagine what flight attendants have had to go through since the Covid pandemic. Between the assholes who refuse to wear masks, and now with all this push back against vaccines? I saw the video of that idiot who had to be duct taped to his seat by the flight attendants recently – he was drunk AF, and violent. No clue what he was screaming about, but a passenger behind him filmed it. I was appalled to hear that the airline had suspended the flight attendants at first, but then, as this article indicated, the union got involved and they were reinstated! Why would you even side with these horrible, disruptive passengers in the first place???

    And I do agree, maybe we cannot return to “normal life” as we knew it before, until some half of the country gets their head out of their ass, and gets vaccinated. I am, in no way, criticizing people who cannot get the vaccine for their own medical reasons, but those are not the ones, screaming, and crying out about their “rights”!!

    Just like these flight attendants, I cannot imagine being on the front line as a health care worker either for the past 18 months. I believed in the beginning when a vaccine became available, that this nightmare would start to come to an end. I was wrong.

  11. Ducky says:

    Former flight attendant here! During the 8 weeks of training required for new hire flight attendants back in 2011, we went through a whole unit on how to defend ourselves and the cockpit door. In addition to striking to sensitive areas like the nose and the solar plexus, we were told to use whatever we could get our hands on to defend ourselves- hot coffee to the to the face, hitting the attacker with the fire extinguisher, etc. And we were told to ask for help from passengers. In my experience, as soon as someone starts harassing a flight attendant, another passenger will step in to help out with a kind word or physical help if needed.
    Btw, FAs love treats from passengers! Some chocolate or candy goes along way towards a free drink or even a move to a better seat!

    • Butterysoft says:

      My dad was an airline pilot and he always carried a bag a candy in his bag to give to the FAs. He always said to treat the FAs like queens and kings. It worked out great because every time I flew standby and they found out my dads name, I got lots of perks. I started bringing candy of my own on flights

      • olliesmom says:

        Your dad sounds like a great guy Butterysoft and he knew that those flight attendants were keeping him safe and the passengers safe. Flight attendants’ main job isn’t waiting on people – it’s for in flight safety.

    • FHMom says:

      I am going to start giving out candy just for the heck of it. It honestly never crossed my mind. I’ve never witnessed an unruly passenger but would definitely step up. I’m a former teacher and can’t mind my own business when I see a public ruckus.

    • olliesmom says:

      When I used to fly regularly I used to buy a bunch of magazines at the airport shop and i would give them to the flight attendants when we landed and I was leaving the plane just as a thank you. I figured if they had an overnight they could read them when they were winding down for the night in their hotel rooms.

    • BeanieBean says:

      On Hawaiian Airlines, people always bring homemade food for the FAs, it’s a Hawaiian thing! And the FAs love it.

  12. KinChicago says:

    My heart goes out to all of them.
    This violent and awful behavior seems to be spanning all industries- airlines, retail, restaurants….

    • AmyB says:

      I agree! It’s all the people that have to deal with the public in general. I used to be one of them. I worked in fine dining as a server, and later, a sommelier for almost 20 years. I left that industry back in 2016, and thank God I did then!! I cannot imagine trying to deal with these assholes on a daily basis. When guidelines or restrictions are in place, YOU are not the one making them, but simply enforcing them.

      My heart goes out to all of them, and especially to our healthcare system. xo

    • CooCooCatchoo says:

      I work in the hospitality industry. My coworkers and I agree that people have lost their basic manners since COVID. 70% have become entitled a-holes. They’ve forgotten how to say “Please” and “Thank You.” It’s all “Gimme,” and GOD FORBID they should have to wait for anything. And these are grown-ass adults I’m talking about – the young ones are much more respectful. We’ve been running on a skeleton crew since the world reopened in March – we keep trying to fill positions, but are having a hard time.

  13. Anna says:

    This is awful but again, white supremacy and U.S. exceptionalism make an evil combination and this is what we are living with, all of us. Nothing should be off-limits to these people (sarcasm). Everything is their right. (again, sarcasm) And I appreciate those saying they would jump in to defend the flight attendants but just be careful with that. BIPOC people can’t take that same action and if the issue involves BIPOC, I caution mindfulness because nine times out of ten, we would be blamed for anything that arises from a situation gone wrong. For goodness sakes, in the “best” of times, Black women doctors on flights are questioned as to whether they are really doctors when trying to help a person in distress. We are questioned no matter what. So yes, allies, use your white privilege but stay mindful of the whole situation so you don’t end up causing more distress.

  14. olliesmom says:

    There needs to be a serious discussion about not serving alcohol in airports and on board flights. Or if alcohol is served, the bartenders in airports need to start cutting people off /refuse to serve them when they are overserved. Some people just can’t handle their alcohol/know when to stop like an adult should.

    People need to understand that yeah, you can act however you want, but there consequences to your actions. And if that means that they never fly again, so be it. They will just have to load up the car and drive or not go anywhere.

    This a is a serious safety and security issue.

  15. Isabella says:

    Agree that flight attendants deserve combat pay. They are doing the best they can in a terrible situation. They are heroes.

    However, I do blame airline companies for cramming people into smaller and smaller seats, making flying so uncomfortable and claustrophobic. It’s a powder keg.

  16. Concern Fae says:

    This article in The Atlantic really summed up a great deal of the problem: American Shoppers are a Nightmare. Basically, when department stores were invented as a destination, merchants began a program of flattering people to get them to shop. Now, getting that flattery is seen as a class marker, so when people feel they aren’t being catered to and pampered by service workers, they see it as an insult and lash out. Also, the largely black and brown service workers are no longer willing to keep quiet about the racism involved in all this.

    As a white woman, I know women who really do enjoy being able to boss waitstaff and store employees around. I grew up being told to be super nice to wait staff as thanks that you don’t have to to their job. Works for me. There was one co-worker I finally had to stop going to lunch with. She was never rude, but hearing the constant complaining about things like the rolls not being warm was just draining and ruined what should have been an enjoyable meal.

    • iconoclast59 says:

      I had a friend who, every time we went out to eat, sent back her meal. Every. Time. She came from a wealthy family, and I suspect she got it from one or both of her parents. Probably thought it was some kind of boss power move. Anyway, I started teasing her about it; when the meal would arrive, I’d say something like, “So, what are you going to find wrong with it THIS time?” Finally, she realized what an azz she was being and stopped doing it.

  17. Jessica says:

    My bf and I flew in July and he was genuinely worried about other passengers acting out. Luckily, no major incidents happened on either of our flights, just way too much bitching about having to wear a mask. Has anyone else noticed the venn diagram of “bad fliers,” “rude to waitstaff,” “anti-vaxx,” and “pro birth” seem to overlap considerably? Why did we let these idiots take over and drown out the decent people?

  18. You Know Me says:

    What is a bit frightening is to realize airlines aren’t (probably) paying for Sky Police. ALL the flights lately with garbage customers and not one Sky Police (cannot thing of the actual name) on any flights? Also, duct tape the fools to a super small chair and let them suffer until the flight lands & the police come to fetch them.

    • Dani says:

      air marshals? very expensive to have them on flights not so practical for all flights unfortunately

  19. Liz version 700 says:

    We flew on Friday for our first trip in 21 months and everything was lovely… but then overheard other passengers talking about their flight having to go back to the gate because two men got into a fistfight over mask wearing… omg we have to fly home still sigh

  20. J ferber says:

    This is on a par with giving teachers guns and blackboard shields to fight off school shooters. This is insane and won’t work. Why is getting violent in airplanes a thing now? For fuck’s sake.