Following airlines warning this week that domestic flights are devolving into psychological thrillers, the TSA has cautioned that checkpoint security personnel, too, are facing Americans’ inexplicable wrath. In a statement released Thursday titled “TSA reminds passengers to remain calm and respectful at security checkpoints,” it adds that it’s resuming optional pre-pandemic self-defense training for flight crews. Which, airline officials can not stress enough, are more essential now than ever.
The TSA cites two revolts quashed just this month. One passenger in Louisville, Kentucky, allegedly tried to make a run from the exit lane and now faces criminal charges for resisting arrest, fleeing and evading police, and misdemeanor assault. Another in Denver bit two TSA officers, officials claim. Both potentially face the maximum TSA fine of up to $13,910 for each violation.
The TSA confirmed to Gizmodo that while they can fine rogue airport cowboys, only law enforcement can press criminal charges.
In a press release, the TSA announced that Federal Air Marshals will restart voluntary 4-hour classes suspended due to the pandemic. “During the training, flight crew members learn to identify and deter potential threats, and if needed, apply the self-defense techniques against attackers,” it reads. The preexisting program, which the TSA paused due to covid-19, specializes in hand-to-hand combat for a crowded pressurized aircraft.
In a 2017 YouTube video illustrating the classes, the TSA shows a Federal Air Marshal poking a dummy in the eye, slapping its ears, and kicking its groin. A flight attendant recounts a passenger shooting them a “cold stare.”
In a separate release, TSA Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Administrator Darby LaJoye acknowledged the 2021 air rage epidemic disturbing an otherwise “exciting return to travel.”
“Passengers do not arrive at an airport or board a plane with the intent of becoming unruly or violent; however, what is an exciting return to travel for some may be a more difficult experience for others, which can lead to unexpected, and unacceptable, behaviors,” LaJoye said. “We appreciate our continued partnership and coordination with the FAA and stand together in a unified position of zero-tolerance with respect to attacks against our employees.”
The FAA has stated that it has received 3,082 reports of unruly passengers this year, just over six months in, and initiated 487 investigations. That’s already double the 183 investigations it opened in all of 2020.
The TSA added that among “steps to deter assaults against officers and flight crew,” Federal Air Marshals will be training them in self-defense tactics beginning July 2021.
A spokesperson for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) told Gizmodo that the program builds on annual FAA training for flight attendants, but that “we always welcome more opportunities for self-defense training and are looking forward to more information about this program.”
As we reported earlier this week, a large majority of FAA reports involve passengers refusing to wear masks. Verbal and physical assaults on flight attendants have forced pilots to ground flights and delay takeoff so that authorities can apprehend alleged flight hellions.
In this week’s letter to the Justice Department, airlines stated that the FAA has done its best to raise awareness, but emphasized that the federal government needs to intervene in flight-related crime.
“[W]e believe that the United States Government is well equipped to prosecute unruly and disruptive onboard behavior,” they wrote. They added that those who assault or intimidate crew members are subject to fines and/or up to 20 years of prison time. “Making these prosecutions public will put a spotlight on the serious consequences when breaking the law and will act as an effective deterrent against future onboard disruptions,” they told the DOJ.
We asked if the agency might install security guards (senseis?) onboard. They neither confirmed nor denied.