Don’t restrain unruly passengers with duct tape, airline reminds crew

US airlines encountering an unusual number of disorderly customers as restrictions lift

United Airlines has asked its employees to not use duct tape to restrain unruly passengers.

In a memo sent to employees last Friday, United flight attendants were urged to “please remember that there are designated items onboard that may be used in difficult situations, and alternative measures such as tape should never be used”.

As pandemic restrictions lift, flight attendants across the United States have been grappling with an unprecedented rise in unruly passenger behaviour. The United memo came soon after American Airlines flight attendants restrained a woman with tape after she tried to open the plane's doors during a flight.

Shortly after that incident, duct tape was used on Frontier Airlines when attendants restrained a man in his seat after he acted aggressively and allegedly grabbed an attendant's breasts.

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United attendants have duct-taped passengers before. In 2003, the airline duct-taped a disruptive passenger on a flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles, after he “began talking and wandering the aisle – pacing and reading the Bible”.

A few years later, in 2008, the airline used duct tape on a passenger after she became violent on a Chicago-bound Puerto Rico flight, fighting attendants and grabbing other passengers.

Tape was not used in 2017 when United attendants dragged a doctor off a flight after he refused to give up his seat to employees of a partner airline. David Dao, then 69 and a father of five, lost teeth and suffered a broken nose and concussion. He sued and the case was settled for an undisclosed sum.

The United memo also said “the overwhelming majority of our customers have been on their best behavior – and returned to our flights with confidence and enthusiasm”.

In instances of disorderly behavior, United said, employees should resort to standard de-escalation measures, including using “the huddle process – which involves discussing the situation with the captain, customer service representative and ground security coordinator for evaluation and solutions”.

Attendants were also directed to use the safety manual to guide decision-making if they feel a customer should be denied onboard service.

Employees were reminded that “in the event [that they] are unable to reach an agreement with a customer about one of our safety-related policies, [they] should follow [their] regular de-escalation and training process and always use [their] best judgment”. – Guardian