Larsen Opening Statement at Aviation Subcommittee Hearing on “Disruption in the Skies: The Surge in Air Rage and its Effects on Workers, Airlines, and Airports”
Washington, D.C., September 23, 2021
Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-02), Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee, released the below statement during the Aviation Subcommittee hearing examining the alarming increase in disruptive and unruly airline passengers, the effect on passenger and crew safety, and the enforcement of U.S. laws prohibiting such behavior.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-02), Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee, released the below statement during the Aviation Subcommittee hearing examining the alarming increase in disruptive and unruly airline passengers, the effect on passenger and crew safety, and the enforcement of U.S. laws prohibiting such behavior. More information about Thursday's hearing, including witnesses, testimony and additional background information, can be found here. For a recording of Chair Larsen’s remarks, click here.
Remarks as prepared for delivery.
“Good morning and welcome to today’s witnesses joining the Aviation Subcommittee’s hearing titled ‘Disruption in the Skies: The Surge in Air Rage and its Effects on Workers, Airlines, and Airports.’
“As the nation works to get to the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, the surge in public air rage incidents has exacerbated the already tenuous workforce situation in our aviation sector and eroded confidence in air travel.
“These incidents have also put the safety of frontline workers, passengers and the nation’s aviation system at risk and could potentially lead to further safety issues.
“Unruly passenger behavior is not a new phenomenon.
“From 2015 to 2020, FAA initiated a total of 786 investigations into unruly passenger behavior.
“However, through the first nine months of 2021, FAA has initiated 789 investigations.
“Airlines have filed 4,385 unruly passenger complaints since the beginning of the calendar year, including 3,199 mask-related complaints.
“As Sara Nelson will testify, frontline aviation workers have to deal with everything from vulgar language, including racial epithets, to punching, kicking, biting, shoving and spitting from passengers.
“This behavior from a small percentage of the traveling public is disgusting, unacceptable and a danger to fellow passengers, crew and the entire U.S. aviation system.
“Congress, the federal government and the aviation industry must work together to protect airline crews, airport staff and the traveling public from passenger outbursts while also preparing for the next public health and national security crises.
“As Subcommittee Chair, I have made aviation safety and enhancing the air travel experience for passengers and crews a priority.
“Three years ago, I worked with then-Subcommittee Chair Frank LoBiondo to pass the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which increased the maximum civil penalty per unruly passenger violation by 48 percent to $37,000.
“When incidents began to rise after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, Chair Peter DeFazio and I encouraged FAA Administrator Dickson to use the full weight of federal law to protect airline passengers and crews ahead of the Inauguration.
“Earlier this year, FAA announced a series of measures to combat passenger issues, including a zero-tolerance policy and a public awareness campaign that showed noticeable results.
“But Congress and government agencies can only do so much.
“I was encouraged to see this week that FAA urged airlines to take additional steps to address this issue, though there is confusion about what FAA is asking of airlines and others in the aviation sector.
“I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses about the enforcement of U.S. laws prohibiting such behavior and what more Congress and agencies can do to support frontline workers.
“The public health response must lead the economic recovery.
“Lessons learned from the ongoing pandemic show the urgent need for a national aviation preparedness plan to improve the safety of aviation crews, employees and passengers minimize disruptions to the national aviation system and restore confidence in air travel.
“I reintroduced my bill, the National Aviation Preparedness Plan Act, earlier this year with my colleague Rep. Don Beyer (VA-08).
“With a clear and consistent plan in place, I am confident the U.S. aviation system will be better prepared for future crises.
“Before we begin, I want to thank the women and men on the frontlines of the aviation industry who continue to keep people and the economy moving during these difficult times.
“Today’s witnesses represent stakeholders for air carriers, airports and frontline workers who can speak to the current situation and what changes need to be made to reduce these incidents.
“I am pleased to welcome Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants – Communications Workers of America (CWA).
“Ms. Nelson will provide the subcommittee with personal experience both as a frontline flight attendant and as president of a union representing 17 airlines across the aviation sector.
“Mr. Teddy Andrews is a long-time flight attendant with American Airlines and will be speaking today on behalf of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.
“Mr. Andrews can provide his first-hand experience as a frontline flight attendant during the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the horrifying abuse he has been subjected to while, as he will say, simply doing his job.
“Ms. Lauren Beyer is Vice President for Security and Facilitation for Airlines for America and has worked on a variety of issues related to aircraft safety during the pandemic.
“I look forward to hearing from her about the airline industry’s efforts to address passenger behavior and what other supports airlines need to do so.
“The Subcommittee will also hear from Mr. Christopher Bidwell, Senior Vice President of Security at Airports Council International—North America.
“It is important to hear steps airports are taking to prevent potential unruly passengers from boarding aircraft as well as additional measures Congress and federal agencies can undertake.
“In my district and across the country, transportation means jobs and is key to economic recovery.
“Without safe, reliable commercial air travel, I would not be able to get to and from work, my constituents would not be able to travel to see family and friends and frontline aviation workers would be without a job.
“Congress, the federal government and the aviation industry must work together to reduce unruly passenger incidents and ensure passengers and crews are safe to fly.
“I look forward to today’s discussion on how to best support your critical work moving forward.”