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International Transport Workers Federation Demand Stronger Efforts to Curb Airline Passenger Misconduct

Aired July 6, 2001 - 10:34   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: We are looking at pictures now from Reagan National Airport where representatives of the International Transport Workers Federation are giving failing grades to various institutions involving air travel, demanding more must be done to stop passengers guilty of a range of misconduct.

Let's listen now to Patricia Friend from the International Transport Workers' Federation.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

PATRICIA FRIEND, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS:

They've failed to levy and to collect fines against the perpetrators of air rage and again they have failed to protect the safety of crew members and the traveling public. The Department of Justice has failed to follow through on their authorization to deputize local law enforcement to avoid having perpetrators simply walk away.

The White House, the White House's work is incomplete. We have a call into the White House. We're waiting for a return call because they are the ones that have the authority to force the FAA, to force the Department of Justice to fulfill their responsibilities. The question remains about whether or not the White House will, in fact, fulfill their responsibilities. We're issuing this report card today in an effort to get the airlines and the federal government to act now, before there is an air rage disaster.

Air rage is a felony. It's punishable by criminal penalties of 20 years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine and civil penalties of up to $25,000. However, these penalties only work if people are aware that there are consequences for this behavior on board aircraft. The FAA has said that in this past year there have only been 18 fines for air rage and they have collected only one of those of 18 fines.

The government and the airlines need to do more. They must use the fines and the penalties as part of a passenger education program and as a deterrent. The FAA must ensure that proper crew training is available and they must ensure that every incident of air rage is reported. We're calling on every airline in this country today to voluntarily adopt responsible alcohol serving policies, because in almost every incident alcohol is involved. And the airlines must support the victims of air rage with time off to testify and with financial assistance.

The FAA, the airlines, and the Department of Justice, have failed to protect workers and passengers from the dangers of air rage. We have with us this morning two victims of air rage and I'd like to introduce them individually. The first is Lynn White.

LYNN WHITE, FLIGHT ATTENDANT: About two months ago in the middle of April I was flying a flight between San Francisco and Shanghai. And about four hours into the flight, I noticed a young woman at the rear of the aircraft trying to use the crew inter phone. This is the airplane phone that the crew uses to communicate with each other while on board the aircraft. It's a piece of our safety equipment.

She was trying to make a phone call and as I found out later she had already called a couple of other parts of the aircraft but couldn't get a hold of the party she was looking for. Earlier this woman and her twin sister had been acting loud and boisterous and erratic and as a group we flight attendants got together and decided that we wouldn't be serving them any more alcohol in the hopes they would be calming down.

Anyway, as this woman is using this phone I approached her and explained that the phone wouldn't work to call anywhere off the aircraft and I pointed out the public air phone that was available nearby. And I explained how she could use it and she needed a credit card and she kept going on how she needed to call someone because her sister was being mean and rude to her. And she's going on and on and I'm just trying to talk her into getting her credit card out. And so she's rummaging in her purse trying to get it. And as she's doing this, all of a sudden I hear someone screaming from behind me, "I've got to get out of this aircraft. You've got to open this door. I've got to have a cigarette." Every other word was profanity and this woman was just totally of control.

So my first instinct was to get between her and the door, which effectively backed her into a little alcove at the rear of the aircraft. There is three lavatories there and there is a door going up to a small crew rest area. So she's screaming all this incredible vulgarities and I'm trying to calm her down because we had lots of small children on board. And the more I tried to calm her down, the more irate she became and started violently kicking in every door in sight, literally kicking these bifold doors into the lavatories and kicking open the locked door to our crew rest area.

So I'm thinking oh my gosh. So I'm trying to stay calmer as she's doing this. I put my hands down. This is the way we handle people, trying to let them know we're not a threat. And I say, "Hon, you have got to calm down," at which point she sidearms me straight in the face and fairly flabbergasted me because I've flown for 32 years. I've heard a lot of people yelling abuse and this is the first time anybody got physical.

So there were lots of passengers around. I immediately fled to the galley area, told my flight attendants get back here, there's violence in the back, and there were about four of us back there in about 30 seconds. She's continuing to scream. Her sister is saying, "You're going to ruin the whole blankety-blank flight. You've got to stop." They're screaming at each other and we're trying to calm them down and absolutely nothing worked. This was just those situations where you think reason might have an effect and it didn't.

Anyway, so after I was hit, we usually let the person of first contact take over in case anything one of us has done might have excited somebody. They just remained violent. I sustained minor injuries, a black eye, swollen nose. I snored for three weeks. I was really mad about that because my nose was so bruised. But the twins were far from finished with their violent behavior.

When the first twin had tried somewhat in her screaming manner to calm the second twin down, they continued fighting with one another and in an effort to maybe isolate them from passengers we removed them to one part of the aircraft and tried to remove passengers from around them. She continued to break through about three or four flight attendants and a dead heading pilot that was trying to calm her down and goes running through the airplane again. And after much consideration, the captain decided that we would use the plastic handcuffs that we have on board as a last resort, which we did.

When we tried do this, the second sister reportedly jumped one of the flight attendants, raked her fingernails down his back. He was bleeding. And they were spitting and cursing and once again shouting. This was the most, this was, to me, the most amazing part of it. The violence of their language was just unbelievable. No one in the back half of the aircraft could relax as they continued to scream and use this profanity for a couple, more than two hours. The flight had many children on board, as I've said, and they were subjected to this continuous stream of vulgarities.

Finally the captain, with hard consideration, decided we needed to return to Anchorage, which was the closest airport. I have since learned that Anchorage has had 13 diversions since January of 2,000 for crew interference. And although this woman physically attacked me she, in effect, assaulted all 260 people on that aircraft and she took them hostage.

Many missed connections for their dream vacations. Many missed important business meetings. And one young Chinese woman -- I will never forget her -- missed her brother's funeral in Shanghai. She was inconsolable. I apologized. This was very difficult to live through with her.

Anyway, handling these two out of control women obviously took us away from very important not only safety duties, but service duties to the passengers on this flight. Flight attendants were taken away from their duties. The cockpit had to send a pilot back to assist in restraining these women. If we'd have had an emergency situation, I shudder to think what might have happened, and we couldn't handle any emergency properly because of these two young women. I think the flight crews and especially the traveling public deserve better protection from behavior like this.

Thank you.

FRIEND: Thanks, Lynn.

And now we'll hear from Sam Bishop.

SAM BISHOP, FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Thank you. Good morning. My name is Sam Bishop. I'm a flight attendant for US Airways based out of Washington, D.C. And on March 19, 1999, I was working a flight from Pittsburgh to South Bend, Indiana. We were in the process of doing the beverage service. I got back to Row 18 and I asked the young lady sitting in 18-A if she would like something to drink. I took her order and then I gave her a drink.

I then turned to the gentleman who was sitting in 18-C, a Mr. Waldstricher (ph), and asked him if he would like something to drink. He said yes and gave me a rather strange look. I waited for a moment then I motioned that I needed to know what it was that he wanted to drink, and with that he became very irate.

He began loudly and using profanity, screaming at me to get out of his face. After he finally finished with his violent and verbally abusive outburst, I went ahead and served the rest of the cabin.

Afterwards, I went up to the cockpit and told the captain what had happened and I told him that I thought at the moment the situation was under control and we didn't need any further assistance.

Later on we were preparing the cabin for landing in South Bend, and I went back and I got back as far as Row 18 again and Mr. Waldstricher was holding the cup that I had given to the lady who was seated next to him. I went to take it from him. He pulled it away from me and said, "Where is your badge?"

At that point trying to, trying to keep from getting any further outbursts, I said, "I think we've probably said enough to each other already," and asked him if we could just leave the situation as it was. His response was to leap out of his seat, grab me by the neck and the tie. It took myself and three passengers to pull me out of his choke hold and then subdue him. I immediately went up to the cockpit and told the captain that now we need some assistance.

He radioed ahead to South Bend and asked the police to meet the aircraft. When we arrived in South Bend, the police did meet the aircraft and Mr. Waldstricher was detained. But he didn't understand why he was being arrested. He even asked the police if they were real cops or just airport cops. Mr. Waldstricher was fined $1,100, charged with interference of crew duties. He was denied transportation back to his home city. But even though he attempted to strangle me he wasn't charged with assault.

Thank you.

FRIEND: Are there questions?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Yes. Do the airlines discourage you from reporting these incidents or even coerce you in order to get you not to report these incidents?

BISHOP: No, I wasn't discouraged. I'm sorry. I wasn't discouraged from reporting the incident at all. I was...

FRIEND: I'm sorry, I didn't hear the question.

FRAZIER: We are hearing comments from flight attendants, specifically from Patricia Friend, president of the Association Of Flight Attendants, talking about the prevalence of air rage. They've cited 4,000 incidents a year, said the FAA has only levied 18 fines in the past year and has only collected one following all of that. And some dramatic accounts there from two flight attendants of what happened to them while they were working in the air.

To point out, this is not a subject of universal agreement. The president of the Air Travelers Association said that the people who have to endure the worst conditions most often are, in fact, the employees more than the passengers, and that the employees have to bear responsibility for some air rage incidents themselves. He says some of them are so rude they are like powder kegs ready to explode. Which brings us then to our next question, how does the public view this threat of air rage and with whom do they lay responsibility.

Let's turn now to Gallup Poll's Editor-In-Chief Frank Newport, who is ready to join us from Princeton, New Jersey. Frank, good morning.

FRANK NEWPORT, GALLUP, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Good morning, Stephen.

We've reviewed some of the data we've collected over the last couple of years of airline fliers. It's very interesting. It's what I would call a case of displacement, is what we're seeing here. Let me show you why I say that in a moment.

First of all, just to set the stage, less than half of Americans even fly each year. We think most of the problem, and I'll show you why I say this in a minute, is with these frequent fliers. It's really just one out of 10 Americans that fly five or more flights a year.

We went through a list of issues relating to airlines and asked fliers how satisfied they were with each ones. And look at this, it's the flight attendants and the gate agents that actually get the highest ratings of all. On time performance is what's lower, and ticket prices. We didn't include it on this chart, but things like food and seat room are actually much lower than that.

That's why I say displacement. It's not that they're angry per se at these people. We think they get angry for other reasons and these people are handy and that's why they get mad at them.

How much do people feel rage? Look how many fliers admit they feel rage at least occasionally. This is all fliers, and you can see oh, about a third say they admit to at least occasional airline rage themselves. But when we isolate frequent fliers, Stephen, very interesting, we've got over 40 percent of frequent fliers represented over here who say at least occasionally, they'll admit to our Gallup interviewers, they feel rage themselves. So we think it's a real, real issue here again, a classic case of displacement. Bottom line here is airline fliers tell us they're sympathetic to these people like we just saw at the press conference but they admit that airline rage can be very real.

Stephen, Daryn, back to you.

FRAZIER: Before we let you go, Frank, you just mentioned a classic case of displacement and I'm not sure I know what that means.

NEWPORT: Well, it's a psychological term which means that you're upset, it's the kick the dog syndrome, psychologists tell us. You're frustrated and mad, you come home from work so you kick the cat. The same idea. You're made about things that don't relate to that person you see in front of them but since they're there, the gate agent or the flight attendant, you take out your anger on whoever happens to be handy.

FRAZIER: Now it makes sense. Frank Newport from Princeton, New Jersey and with the Gallup Association. Frank, thank you very much.

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