Unruly airline passengers: Flight attendant warns 'you just don't know who you're going to encounter'

FOX Business Flash top headlines for March 17

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Before then onslaught of reported unruly passenger incidents erupted, Jonathan Mammarelli, member of the Association of Flight Attendants, never thought twice before starting his shift. 

"But now you really have to be on guard and have that situational awareness because you just don't know who you're going to encounter," Mammarelli told FOX Business.  

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Mammarelli was one of many flight attendants who participated in the Transportation Administration Security's (TSA) Crew Member Self Defense Training Program, which teaches active crew members how to handle physical altercations both on and off the aircraft.  

A passenger wears a face mask she travels on a Delta Air Lines flight after taking off from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.  (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File / AP Newsroom)

Its training that has proven useful for flight crew who have faced roughly 6,870 unruly passenger incidents since the beginning of 2021, according to FAA data. 

In January 2021, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order directing stricter penalties — $37,000 fine per violation — for passengers who assault, threaten, intimidate or interfere with crew members after seeing "a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights."

Officials from the FAA and Justice Department even developed "an efficient method for referring the most serious unruly-passenger cases for potential criminal prosecution."

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The penalties helped to quell the surge of incidents, which have since dropped about 50% from it's the peak at the beginning of 2021. Still, airlines continued to face a growing number of unruly passengers. 

"We're more on guard than ever before and definitely a little more stressed," Mammarelli said. 

The TSA's self defense class helped to counter that stress, he said. 

"It helped me and I'm sure it helped everyone else know exactly how to deescalate the situation," he said. "God forbid, if something happened, we would know how to…keep everyone safe, our flying partners and the passengers." 

Travelers walk through in Salt Lake City International Airport, Tuesday, March 9, 2021, in Salt Lake City. U.S. airlines are adding jobs as industry employment extends a rebound from a low in October, when tens of thousands of airline workers were br (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer / AP Newsroom)

Throughout the class Mammarelli and other flight attendants were taught different techniques on how to counter an attack, including how to pivot your feet and move around the tight quarters of a cabin. They were also shown how to properly punch, kick and even grab a weapon, such as a knife, out of a passengers hand if a certain situation were to arise, Mammarelli said. 

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Most importantly, they were taught to be "situationally aware with what's going on around you," he said. If something were to happen, then you are taught to take a step back, figure out how to block an attack, secure the passenger and make sure everyone is safe on the plane, Mammarelli said. 

However, he emphasized that you always want to be able to deescalate the situation as best you can before it gets physical, "because when you are 35,000 feet in the air, a lot of things can go wrong."

Mammarelli says this usually means listening to what the passengers are saying and not raising your voice back at them. 

"You have to be the calmer one in that situation and maybe just allow them to just voice whatever is that they want to voice," he said. 

The majority of the time they are just frustrated with things such as wearing a face mask or having a flight be delayed or late, according to Mammarelli. 

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