The airline passenger wars have begun

Air travel has slowly started to ramp back up this year, but it hasn’t exactly been going smoothly. We’ve seen some sporadic news items about altercations breaking out onboard domestic flights from time to time, but a new report from NBC News reveals that it’s actually been far more widespread than I’d previously imagined. Physical fights have been breaking out between passengers on planes and assaults on flight attendants have been reported, sometimes leading to the plane being diverted for an emergency landing. How many of these incidents are taking place in 2021? In the first four months of this year, there have been more than ten times as many physical disruptions as are typically seen in an entire year. And pretty much all of them had to do with face mask mandates.

The Federal Aviation Administration is warning air travelers about what it describes as a dramatic increase in unruly or dangerous behavior aboard passenger airplanes.

In a typical year, the transportation agency sees 100 to 150 formal cases of bad passenger behavior. But since the start of this year, the agency said, the number of cases has jumped to 1,300, an even more remarkable number since the number of passengers remains below pre-pandemic levels.

The behavior in question includes passengers refusing to wear masks, drinking excessively and engaging in alleged physical or verbal assault, including what the agency describes as political intimidation and harassment of lawmakers.

The FAA is now telling the airlines to report these incidents for criminal prosecution. Those found guilty of “unruly behavior” can reportedly face fines of up to $35,000. Further, airlines are already lowering the ban-hammer and putting people engaged in this behavior on a lifetime no-fly list.

To be perfectly clear, I am not in any way endorsing the idea of people getting physical and punching out either the airline attendants or their fellow passengers. That’s never an appropriate response unless someone begins assaulting you first. Also, taking out your wrath on a stewardess is pointless because they don’t make the rules and I imagine that quite a few of them don’t like those rules any more than you do.

It’s really not even the airlines themselves who are to blame. They didn’t dream up these mask mandates on their own. They’re taking their cues from the CDC and the White House just like everyone else. If they didn’t do that they would be open to lawsuits from anyone who claimed to have come down with COVID on a flight. (This should serve as a reminder that Congress has still yet to pass any sort of bill including immunity against nuisance COVID lawsuits such as the one Trump was asking for before he left office.)

But with all of that said, can we honestly act surprised to see these things unfolding? The government (at nearly every level) had already exhausted the patience of far too many Americans as it is. The social distancing mandates and face mask requirements have pushed people to the breaking point. This is particularly true when you consider that people have slowly been learning that many of these procedures and policies were largely worthless to begin with. More studies have been coming out, declaring that the risk of transmission of the virus is pretty much the same at three feet, six feet, or sixty feet. Both the government and most of the media have been doing their level best to ignore the findings of researchers saying that cloth face masks are essentially useless in protecting uninfected people. (Though they can slow down transmission by symptomatic infected patients.) And people are likely looking even further askance at the CDC after learning that they allowed the nation’s largest teacher’s union to bully them into changing their “scientific” guidelines.

Some people are perfectly happy to have the government hold their hand and tell them what to do. Good for them. Wear a mask for the rest of your life if you wish. It’s none of my business. But a significant portion of the American people are fed up with all of this and they’re demanding answers. Fed-up people tend to act out at times. Again, I’m not excusing those who resort to violence because of their frustration with these rules, but it’s also not hard to see why some of them are lashing out.

Some people have to travel by air to maintain their jobs. Just staying on the ground isn’t an option for everyone. The people at the CDC need to get off of their collective butts and change these guidelines. Airline passengers should be welcome to wear a face mask if they wish, but they shouldn’t be mandatory. And trying to force two-year-old children to wear them is an abomination.