Even if you haven’t seen this particular video posted by ATL Uncensored, you’ve seen many like it — a plane, an argument, a viral cellphone video of yet another in-flight confrontation.
When it was over, Los Angeles realtor Patricia Cornwall, 51, had been detained, charged with assault and in the custody of the FBI.
It began on Dec. 23 when Cornwall, walking down the aisle on her way to her seat, yelled at a seated 80-year-old passenger for not wearing a mask as he was eating.
Problem: Cornwall’s mask was tucked under her chin — not on her face — as she yelled, “Put your f–king mask on.”
The two traded insults and made references to each other’s anatomy. The 80-year-old said that Cornwall struck and scratched his face, as the video shows.
According to the police report, another passenger said she was burned by hot water because of Cornwall’s behavior and a flight attended said she tried to kick him.
The friendly skies are friendly no more.
The year 2021 ends with a record number of unruly passenger incidents — with a chart that looks like every other chart in the COVID-19 era as it shows an exponential spike in investigations starting in 2020. There were 5,779 unruly passenger reports so far this year — more than 4,000 were mask-related.
In 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration investigated 146 unruly passenger incidents. This year, the number spiked to more than 1,000.
I’ve flown a number of times since the coronavirus first appeared. I don’t like wearing a mask during a long flight and trekking through the airport. But it’s the law, so I comply. Most of my cabin mates have shared that attitude. I’ve seen the occasional testy flight attendant but can see why crew patience has run short.
Former FAA counsel Gregory S. Walden has a great analogy for the mask mandate on planes. You can smoke on the sidewalk, he told me, but not on a plane. “You don’t have freedom of movement on an airplane,” Walden noted.
Also, if you fail to comply with instructions when asked “and you cause flight attendants to be distracted from their otherwise duties,” you can be fined.
In short, you can’t do or say whatever you want on a plane. Like the guy on a March Delta flight from Fort Myers, Florida, to Detroit who, according to the FAA, wouldn’t wear a mask and swore repeatedly at other passengers and had to be moved to the back of the plane. “This is America. This is free speech. What don’t you understand?” he yelled at a crew member. He was fined $24,000.
That flight had to be diverted to Atlanta where law enforcement met the individual.
It is against federal regulations to “assault, threaten, intimidate or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember’s duties aboard an aircraft being operated.” Passengers who assault crew or passengers also are subject to federal or state criminal charges.
The Association of Flight Attendants released a survey that reported 85 percent of flight attendants had dealt with unruly passengers in the first half of the year. Contributing factors: masks, alcohol, routine safety reminders, flight delays, and cancellations.
I would add: Under COVID-19, America has become a short-fuse country. People tired of being tired about COVID-19 are acting out in public places — and we’re all worse off for it.
I learned about the folly in challenging airline policies years ago when a fellow passenger on a bargain airline refused to pay the fare with a $10 overcharge on his credit card, which the crew said could be refunded. When we landed, he was escorted off the plane in handcuffs.
He was right, but when you consider the legal fees and fine that likely followed, he was insane to fight it.
I think of him when I watch videos of passengers escorted off planes because they wouldn’t mask up when they knew they’d have to. Their indignation at the rules is poorly timed and self-destructive.
No one forced them to buy a ticket. And their act of defiance won’t change regulations or policies, but it will inconvenience everyone else on board. Also, it will consume hours of their time and attention.
Why would anyone do that?
Debra J. Saunders is a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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