Tucson International Airport sees increase in “confrontational” behavior from passengers

Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 at 5:32 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -A rise in unruly passengers seen at the Tucson International Airport and around the US. Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sent a warning out about a spike in incidents on airplanes.

The FAA said the administration would, in a normal year, get about 100-150 formal cases of unruly passengers a year. While overall, ridership and passengers have decreased the last two years, these incidences of unruly passengers have increased, the agency reporting about 1,300 reports of unruly passengers since February.

“The one word that comes to mind is confrontational,” said Scott Bader, chief of police for the Tucson Airport Authority.

Bader said an increase in unruly passenger behavior on planes and in the airports started around the time the mask mandates went into place. While it is not the only reason for the rise in bad behavior, it’s one of the main ones.

“We’ve seen all of them, from folks that are intoxicated, to folks that are just irritated they had to wear a mask during their flight,” he said.

According to the Tucson International Airport, while the amount of unruly passenger reports is still small, it has increased. They said in 2019, out of almost four million passengers that filtered in and out of the airport, ten reports of unruly behavior were reported. Three of those resulted in arrests.

In 2020, when the pandemic shuttered the travel industry, total passengers for the year fell to close to 1.7 million. However, 13 reports for bad behavior in passengers were taken, four of them involved face masks. None of the face mask incidents that year resulted in an arrest, but three of the 13 reports did.

Up through April in 2021, more than 669,000 people have traveled through the Tucson International Airport. Up through the same month, the airport said 12 unruly passenger reports have already been taken, half of which resulted in arrests. Nine of the 12 reports involved masks, two of which resulted in arrests.

“It has caused an increase in calls for service,” said Bader. “We’re just seeing more of these calls than we have in the past.”

Bader said federal agencies and the Tucson Airport Authority police have a zero-tolerance policy for disruptive behavior—due to the increase seen nation-wide. Meaning, if there’s a passenger acting up, and probable cause—officers are instructed to make an arrest, instead of educate.

This comes as several videos have made news headlines of disruptive and aggressive passenger behavior. A Southwest Flight attendant was recently assaulted when asking a passenger to obey safety instructions.

The Association of Flight Attendants said in an online article, “The constant combative attitude over wearing masks is exhausting and sometimes horrific for the people who have been on the frontlines of this pandemic for over a year. Masks were politicized and violence was stoked. We are bearing the brunt of this every day at work, including serious injury. It’s dangerous, unacceptable, and it’s got to stop.”

The federal mask mandate is in place until at least mid-September.

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