Boston-area flight attendants prepare to take-on unruly passengers

BOSTON — The Transportation Security Administration gave Boston 25 News rare access to see the unusual steps that flight attendants are taking to keep flight crewmembers safe. It comes after a rise in incidents on board airplanes.

Our team visited the training facility in Chelsea, not far from Logan Airport. It’s one of many facilities where hundreds of flight crew members are learning self-defense.

Every week, it seems, there’s a new video from on board an airliner where a passenger’s frustration takes over.

Earlier this year, one passenger flying from Boston to Orlando was fined $29,000 after refusing to comply with the mask mandate. That passenger was accused of shouting obscenities at the flight crew and even punching a passenger.

At first glance at the Chelsea facility, the training looks and sounds very real. In the scenario, a flight attendant is fighting back against an unruly passenger. It’s one of several training scenarios that the Department of Homeland Security opened up for our cameras.

Stephanie Garrett is a flight attendant, who started nine years ago, at a time when, she says, people enjoyed traveling and were much friendlier.

“I worry about my safety quite a bit,” says Garrett. “I’m watching, looking, making sure that things don’t escalate to a point where I feel that I am completely helpless,” she said.

TSA officials say the training is invaluable. “They’re not really learning how to attack someone,” says Dan Velez, with the TSA. “They’re learning basically how to deescalate a situation and if need be, protect themselves and the passengers,” he said.

The FAA’s latest data from early November shows more than 5,000 incidents of unruly passengers.

Most of them were due to people fighting mask mandates.

But of the thousands of incidents, only 227 cases have resulted in law enforcement action, including 37 involving the FBI.

Flight attendant Caroline Chambers signed up for the training after having a close call on a flight herself, with passengers making threats.

She says it didn’t result in violence but did change how she works.

“The moment we’re on the train, on the bus to work, walking through TSA, walking through the airport, we’re screening everybody. We are looking for people who could help us in an emergency,” said Chambers.

The TSA tells us this training actually started years ago but was put on hold because of the pandemic.

Now that more people are traveling, with new restrictions, these crew members say it’s invaluable.

For an extended look Behind the Scenes at the local training, click here to see footage captured by photojournalists Erling Moe and Jennifer Platt Ure.

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