- Insider interviewed more than a dozen flight attendants about the rise in passenger violence.
- Flight attendants said they have been called expletives when reminding people to wear masks onboard.
- Many flight attendants said the increase in verbal harassment has hurt their mental health.
The fourth time Monica, a flight attendant, asked a group of men to put their masks on aboard her flight, one of the passengers called her “the mask bitch.”
Monica, who is based in Houston and requested to speak under a pseudonym to protect her job, told Insider she has faced verbal abuse and been called expletives when asking passengers to wear their masks.
Flight attendants like Monica across the country are facing a wave of verbal and physical abuse on airlines as US travel surged this spring and summer. Since January 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration has received 2,500 reports of unruly behavior by passengers, most of which involve travelers refusing to comply with the federal mask mandate.
Monica said the verbal harassment has negatively impacted her mental health and that she now feels wary before every flight.
“At that point, it’s just like, you know what, I’m really just trying to get through this day,” she said in an interview with Insider. “I didn’t come to work for this.”
Over the last three months Insider has interviewed more than a dozen flight attendants, some of whom shared stories of harassment they’ve encountered. All workers requested anonymity, and Insider confirmed their identities and employment prior to publishing.
One Chicago-based flight attendant recalled an encounter on recent 6 am flight.
After other passengers complained of a man refusing to wear a mask, the flight attendant gently asked him to wear one. She said the man stood up before cussing and flipping off the flight attendants. His shouts woke up sleeping passengers and disturbed children on the plane , the flight attendant said.
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“It’s disturbing because you’re like,’Is this guy going to hit us?’ the flight attendant said. “You don’t know what he’s going to do next.”
Some altercations between passengers and flight attendants have become physically violent. A video recently circulated depicting a passenger punching a Southwest flight attendant so hard two of her teeth fell out. In mid-May, the FAA issued its largest fine ever — $52,000 — against a passenger who physically assaulted a flight attendant.
A Los Angeles-based flight attendant told Insider a passenger told her she “better watch her back” while swearing at her for telling him to put on a mask.
She said the passenger resisted and claimed being told to wear a mask infringed on his freedom. She added mask wearing has become politicized, and several passengers believe flight attendants enforcing the Biden administration’s mask policy for airlines are infringing on their rights.
Nas Lewis, another flight attendant based out of Chicago, said she had been told, “If I had a Black Lives Matter shirt on, this wouldn’t be a problem,” by an intoxicated passenger when she cut him off from drinking more alcohol .
Lewis, who founded the non-profit th|AIR|apy to help flight attendants address mental health, said passengers are bringing angst from the heated political climate and the stress of the pandemic aboard aircrafts.
“We’re just expected to just roll with it, but it becomes abusive,” Lewis said. She told Insider she’s seen a rise in activity in th|AIR|apy support groups over the last three months, including instances of flight attendants sharing photos of themselves crying.
“There’s sometimes a lack of respect for our profession,” Lewis said. “And because they see a bunch of women a lot of times, they feel like they can speak to us in any kind of way. It becomes very emotionally abusive.”