- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO Airline employees handed out leaflets and held demonstrations at airports around the world Thursday to demand that government and the industry do more to stop the rising incidence of "air rage" among passengers.
Unions representing flight attendants and ground crews declared a "day of action" against passengers whose misbehavior ranges from being noisy to becoming downright violent.
As recently as Tuesday, a Continental Airlines flight returned to Anchorage, Alaska, after a passenger was accused of throwing a can of beer at a flight attendant and biting a pilot on the arm.
"Airline workers have a right to come to work and go home in the same condition," Capt. Trevor Jenson said in Sydney, Australia, where staff from Qantas and Ansett airlines called for stronger measures to counter air rage.
The Transport Workers Federation, an umbrella organization for the unions, said air-rage incidents increased from 1,132 in 1994 to 5,416 in 1997. The union also said U.S. air crews have reported a huge increase in unruly passengers, with more than 500 last year after just 66 in 1997.
To change those trends, the federation wants governments to sign an international convention that would close loopholes to ensure prosecution of air-rage offenders.
It also wants airlines and airport authorities to provide training and restraint equipment, and to introduce coherent security policies.
Flight attendants also want airlines to stop serving preflight drinks in the business and first-class sections. Their union says 40 percent of air-rage incidents are caused by alcohol.
"We're not asking for a ban on alcohol," said Dawn Bader, president of the Association of Flight Attendants' United Airlines Council. "We're asking for a policy that's a little more realistic. Alcohol is 50 percent stronger in the air than on the ground."
Among the cities where flight attendants were demonstrating Thursday were Montreal; Paris; London; Cancun, Mexico; Mexico City; Taipei, Taiwan; Oslo; Stockholm; Lagos, Nigeria; Zurich; Tokyo; Frankfurt, Germany; and Buenos Aires.
One flight attendant distributing leaflets at the San Francisco airport said she had been shoved around the galley of an airplane by a passenger who did not want the special meal he had ordered. Another said she was shoved when she was six months pregnant by a man who refused to put his bag under his seat.
Part of the problem is that delays and crowding on airlines are getting worse, making passengers more frustrated, said Suzanne Kirkpatrick, who is on the international staff of the flight attendants' union.
"People with a little bit more to drink, sometimes they can become very vulgar, very noisy," agreed traveler Nellie Chan of Oakland, Calif., who took a leaflet at the San Francisco airport.
Last year, the maximum fine for assaulting a crew member was increased from $1,100 to $25,000, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said Thursday. Disrupting a flight can bring 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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