FLIGHT attendants call for action on `air rage'

Friday, July 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ By failing to deal with air rage, airlines and government agencies are putting air travelers increasingly at risk, say flight attendants who allege 4,000 incidents a year of unacceptable passenger behavior.

``It only takes one incident to create an air disaster,'' Patricia Friend, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said Friday.

``U.S. airlines have failed to promote cabin safety over their profits,'' Friend said at a news conference, noting that five years ago airline crews ``didn't have to worry about going to work and getting beat up.''

At Reagan National Airport, the flight attendants issued an air rage report card, giving failing grades to airlines, the Justice Department and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Those agencies have failed to force airlines to report all air rage incidents and rarely enforce laws against rowdy passengers, Friend said. She also criticized airlines for failing to train crews properly to deal with air rage and support employees who become victims.

Meanwhile, members of the International Transport Workers' Federation plan to meet on Friday with government officials around the world to demand that more be done to stop the growing problem of passengers guilty of a range of misconduct, from making too much noise to breaking into cockpits and attacking airline crews.

Airline workers handed out leaflets to educate passengers about air rage here. Similar demonstrations were planned at airports in San Francisco, Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C.

Lynn White, a United Airlines flight attendant, said that in April she was struck in the face by a passenger, one of identical twin sisters who were arrested and charged with causing such a disruption that the flight from San Francisco to Shanghai, China, had to be diverted to Anchorage, Alaska.

Prosecutors said Cynthia and Crystal Mikula, aged 22 at the time, drank too much and fought with each other and the flight crew. The case is pending, and if convicted the sisters face up to 20 years in prison.

``Handling these two out-of-control women put the entire flight in danger,'' White said. ``The flight attendants were taken away from their vital safety duties, and a pilot had to leave the cockpit to assist.''

In a well-known case of air rage in 1999, a Continental Airlines agent at Newark International Airport suffered a broken neck in a confrontation with a male passenger, who was acquitted of assault this year.

Friend said readily available alcohol makes these situations much worse and that airlines must stop serving drinks before takeoff and to compensate passengers for delays or other problems. Also, gate agents must prevent drunken passengers from boarding, she said.

The flight attendants' union blames rising tensions among passengers on overbooking, crowded planes and frequent delays.

David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, said airline employees endure these conditions far more often than passengers and must bear responsibility for some air rage incidents.

He said his members have complained of rude airline workers who seem like ``powder kegs ready to explode.''

``I think everyone needs to calm down a little bit,'' Stempler said.