Southwest Airlines flight attendant loses two teeth after passenger assault; inflight incidents at ‘intolerable level,’ union says

A Southwest Airlines flight attendant was assaulted by a passenger over the weekend  and lost two teeth, according to a letter the flight attendants union sent to the airline’s CEO Monday in an appeal for more safeguards as travel rebounds.

“This past weekend, one of our flight attendants was seriously assaulted, resulting in injuries to the face and a loss of two teeth,” Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556 said in the letter. “Unfortunately, this is just one of many occurrences. I

write to you today because we cannot tolerate our beloved cohearts (being abused in

such a manner, and because I am asking for your help and leadership in ending these

travesties.”

The union said there were  477 passenger misconduct incidents on Southwest between April 8 and May 15.

“This unprecedented number of incidents has reached an intolerable level, with passenger non-compliance events also becoming more aggressive in nature,” Montgomery said.

A Southwest Airlines pilot outside one of the airplane's Boeing 737s. (Photo: Southwest Airlines)

Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz confirmed that a passenger physically assaulted a flight attendant when Southwest Flight 700 from Sacramento to San Diego, California, landed Sunday morning.

“The passenger repeatedly ignored standard inflight instructions and became verbally and physically abusive upon landing,” Mainz said via e-mail in response to questions from USA TODAY. “Law enforcement officials were requested to meet the flight upon arrival, and the passenger was taken into custody.  We do not condone or tolerate verbal or physical abuse of our flight crews, who are responsible for the safety of our passengers. ”

The TWU said it is seeking several safeguards from Southwest. 

“Today’s traveling environment requires a new level of firmness in both tone and direction to ensure proper control in the cabin of our aircraft as the attitudes and behaviors of the flying public have, unfortunately, declined,” Montgomery said in the letter.

She said Southwest flight attendants are doing everything they can to ensure compliance with mask rules and other inflight policies but need the support of management when they call out a passengers’ unruly behavior.

“Oftentimes, appropriate actions to maintain a safe environment have been misconstrued as being unkind or inhospitable. As alcohol sales are added back into this already volatile environment, you can surely understand our concern.”

In the letter, the union proposes that Southwest:

♦ Better inform passengers that misbehaving could land them on Southwest’s restricted travelers list and result in potential fines, criminal charges and possible imprisonment.  “The flying public needs to understand that egregious behavior will result in being banned from flying with Southwest Airlines.”

♦ Be consistent in policies. “No passenger should be removed from one flight only to be permitted to board the very next Southwest Airlines flight after a non-compliance incident. We ask that you take a strong stance to ensure that unruly passengers are not welcome to travel with us. Period. Full stop.”

♦ Demand the U.S. government increase the number of Federal Air Marshals on flights and request that they “get involved and take action” when crew members are threatened.

The FAA has taken notice of a spike in passengers behaving badly, adopting a zero tolerance policy in January and extending it in March so it’s in place throughout the pandemic.

Since Jan. 1, the agency said it has received approximately 2,500 reports of unruly behavior by passengers, including about 1,900 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal facemask mandate.

The agency has proposed hundreds of thousands of fines, including $258,250 so far in May. 

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Mask fights and BYOB breaches: FAA proposes $64,500 in fines against five unruly passengers

Airlines have also added travelers to internal do-not-fly lists, but Southwest has never released figures on how many passengers it has put on the list this year.

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