American Airlines CEO Speaks Out After Passenger Broke Crewmember’s Nose On Cross Country Flight

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker took to social media to talk about the incident of a passenger attacking a flight attendant on board a New York JFK to Orange County flight. The passenger was arrested and has been banned from flying American AIrlines.

American’s solution to the problem of unruly passengers is criminal prosecution and fines. And anyone who assaults a crewmember (or another passenger) in the air should certainly face appropriate penalties, criminal and civil.

However these sorts of incidents do seem to happen more often on American Airlines than on competitor carriers, though of course they do happen on some other airlines (perhaps the most famous viral video is of a Southwest flight attendant having their teeth knocked out by a passenger). A plurality of incidents that get reported publicly, and certainly a plurality of those that show up in social media, are on American.

While most passengers and flights don’t see these sorts of outlier behavior, and none of these factors on their own explain the relative difference between American and other airlines, it does seem to stem from a combination of,

  • lower quality passenger (resulting from their willingness to fill planes at lower fares and carry more people, as well as having a hub in South Florida)

  • worse inflight experience (tight seating and no seat back entertainment on most planes makes things a bit more stressful)

  • crew who don’t de-escalate as well (Delta crew are on average friendlier, Southwest crew more fun, and United crew have been through post-David Dao de-escalation training)

To be clear, the New York JFK – Orange County flight incident happened because one passenger acted horribly, period. It wasn’t the flight attendant’s fault, and it wasn’t even a dense aircraft lacking seat back entertainment (it was a legacy American Airlines Airbus A321T). My question here isn’t about this incident, it’s why incidents like this one seem to happen on average more with American than other carriers.

We can punish bad actors – and we should – but there appear to be a combination of factors that lead American to have to deal with this issue more than others. Yet aside from lobbying for punishments, American’s approach has largely been to lobby for airports not to allow vendors to sell alcohol to go any longer. It’s always struck me as sort of stupid that places do this, but it doesn’t seem to be a factor driving American to experience problems more often than others.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I think you nailed it with the “low quality passenger”. These cretins came out of the woodwork last summer and I had taken over Las Vegas by June. I couldn’t believe the trash heap of humanity that was staying at the Wynn of all places- wearing bathing suits and flip-flops into the casino, drunk as hell, yelling, starting fights and basically ruining the experience for everyone.
    It was all due to cheap rooms and free government money.
    Wynn and others raised the rates and the problem went away.

  2. For me while the press release was well said by Mr Parker he is also one large part of the problem
    He has contributed to making Americans team members and passengers miserable
    Uh need a list?
    Certainly many factors @ the end of the day
    As an Excec Plat who is about to throw in the towel I have been tortured by Mr Parker’s general unacceptable policies despite years of promises to improve.While violence is never acceptable ever the anger is there unless you live in the Parker world bubble 😉

  3. Airlines should have implemented
    no fly lists from the beginning AND cross-pollinated with other airlines.
    What, a couple thousand names?
    Out of millions? Like spitting in the ocean. You come into my business, punch one of my employees and you are NEVER getting back in. I’ve never understood the airlines flaccidness on this issue. I know one thing: I am never darkening
    SpiriXXX, er, Americans door…..

  4. A tad racist, you think? Those low quality people you turn your nose up at who have the audacity to buy tickets based on lower price generally ain’t from Norway. Gary = Buffon

  5. It certainly does not diminish the stressful environment to be packed into coach like sardines, with the most uncomfortable seats ever invented, and nothing to do for those who don’t read. Welcome to AA!

    However, to immediately improve the trashy attitude of those bus-type travelers:

    1-Tickets should carry a bold statement that mis-conduct and fighting, particularly attacking a member of the flight crew, will trigger immediate arrest and prosecution.
    2-If the situation warrants a delay, the flight will be diverted and the individual assailant(s) will be arrested by local police. Also, all costs for the diversion will be passed onto the assailant.
    3-Inform the assailant(s) they will will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law; denied any opportunity to simply plead down and pay a fine.
    4-Such inappropriate people shall be banned for life from that carrier; if they cause an injury to a flight crew member, the FAA will ban them for life from all carriers.

    Interestingly, I witnessed how a similar issue was handled when traveling eastbound through Montana on Amtrak’s “Empire Builder.” When our country was successfully drilling towards energy independence pre Biden, this big galoot on his way to Williston, ND (capitol for oil drilling) entered the dining car looking to feed his drunken stupor with more beer-at 0830. After insulting the steward and other crew, the conductor was prepared for this dude by radioing ahead to have the train make an unscheduled stop at Browning, MT, where multiple local and state police squads were awaiting to pull him off the train. Spending a night in Browning, a small Indian town, had to be a sobering –and costly experience. This is how we deal with mis-conduct on the railroad.

  6. Let’s see if Woke Dougie will put his money where his mouth is and have the balls to remove ALL alcohol from J and F….lol right.
    Also, prosecution? I was told all last year that assaulting authority figures is just a non-violent and justified venting mechanism because of years of systemic oppression and racism….maybe he was feeling oppressed that day because of all of the Asian hate going around. We really should take our time to understand him, how he feels and why he felt he needed to smash the f/a.

  7. @CHRIS has a valid point. Last year’s street riots with well over 2,000 assaults on law enforcement and up to $2 Billion in damages nationally saw over 90% of charges dismissed by prosecutors. The lesson learned is that there are no repercussions for bad behavior. So why are the airlines expecting anything different?

  8. We live in a society where there is little right or wrong, little respect for the law, and minimal repercussion for breaking the law or once considered civil behavior. Why should behavior on planes be any different. Until we hold people accountable for their actions again, this will continue to happen.

  9. OMG, where to start…

    @miamiorbust —> Sorry, but playing the racist card won’t work. Sure, there have been some people of color involved in some of these incidents, but @Gary is correct, at least in so far as the incidents that have come to my attention through the local and/or national news, and aviation blogs: the majority of the offenders are white — well beyond their percentage of the population. Now, if you want to “play a card,” I can think of one that, while it won’t fit *every* time, will indeed fit most of the time….
    //////////
    @CHRIS —> It honestly seems to me that the overwhelming number of these incidents (including those that involve gate agents, who certainly seem to attract their fair share) involve the overconsumption of alcohol ON THE GROUND, rather than in the air. It is unlawful in all 50 states to serve alcohol to someone who is intoxicated, and FAs know this just as well as bartenders. I would respectfully suggest it’s time for the managers of bars and restaurants to enforce those laws, AND time for airport management to crack down on those establishments who fail to do so. Personally, I would not hesitate to “drop a dime” on those establishments that *I* witness serving alcohol to people who have already over-consumed. [And I say this as someone who has worked with and sold alcoholic beverages for 50+ years. DUIs, public drunkenness and bad behavior are all bad for business!]
    /////////
    @Mark —> I don’t know if all that verbiage can fit on a ticket, but it *certainly* should be a part of that “hazardous” webpage that warns people about bringing lithium-ion batteries, flammable liquids, etc., etc. on board. One has to agree to the terms and conditions listed prior to purchasing a ticket — make that warning loud and clear and make customers acknowledge those as a part of the T&C. While it is *not* in the airlines’ power to say that passengers will be “denied any opportunity to simply plead down and pay a fine” — that’s up to each local District Attorney’s Office, unless the individual is charged with a Federal crime and then it’s up to the local U.S. Attorney’s Office — the airline can stress that charges will be filed and that the airline will pursue additional civil penalties beyond whatever criminal charges law enforcement may file.
    //////////
    @DavidStone —> Vegas is a great example! While attempting to lure back customers with cheap hotel rates might have seemed like a good idea on paper, it wasn’t just the Wynn and the Encore that was deluged by people “wearing bathing suits and flip-flops into the casino, drunk as hell, yelling, starting fights and basically ruining the experience for everyone.” That affected every hotel on the strip and elsewhere, save maybe the few which don’t have casinos (e.g.: Waldorf-Astoria). No one needs to follow Parker’s example and join AA in a “race to the bottom.” Just as there are *real* low-fare carriers (Spirit, Frontier, etc.), so too are there budget casinos-and-hotels… As with all things, know your market and don’t try to be all thinks to all people. (“What again, that trick never works!” – Rocket J. Squirrel)

  10. Aw, Miamiorbust, don’t be so hard on Mr. Gary. Trash comes in all colors. I know, cuz some of those colors are in my ownselfs family…..

  11. Nice insult to south Florida. What a rude and ignorant thing to say. Meanwhile the incident was from “sophisticated” New York to “sophisticated” California. As much as this guy was An ass, The mask thing drives people nuts and FA’s especially on AA can be nasty and rude. Nothing excuses violence but the assumptions here are all over the place.

  12. Meanwhile, as unemployed trash spends their Covid relief checks on cheap flights to Florida, @miamiorbust calls Gary names he can’t even spell.

  13. Thirty years ago, American was a major/premier U.S. airline while Southwest was a growing upstart airline that provided cheap, no-frills service, both airlines being based out of Dallas.

    Nowadays, Southwest is the higher quality airline while American is known for poor service. How the tables have turned.

  14. Maybe the AA experience is just more miserable from check in to in-flight? Why AA incidents > DL > UA > WN is a great question? I find it hard to believe that the quality of Kettle who flies AA is any different than the other big 3. The Kettles fly on price only. AA isn’t cheaper as a whole than the others.

    This is a question that must be asked but finding the answer is really finding a needle in a haystack

  15. Bupkiss,
    please provide evidence that this passenger was a Republican. Doubt you can. Since he was flying from one Democratically controlled state to another, the chances are high that he was not a Republican.
    Stick to the facts – I know that is hard for people like you – instead of inserting your politics into every discussion.

    Oh and Dougie… has it occurred to you that perhaps the reason you are seeing more incidents is because you DON’T serve alcohol which for the majority of people takes enough of the edge off of unpleasant situations? There have been in-flight incidents involving alcohol since it began being served on commercial aircraft years ago. The increase in violent behavior is not about alcohol but about other factors including the corrosive public discourse that starts with America’s political “leaders” and some people’s inability to manage through that environment. Alcohol and even masks aren’t the problem are. People are – your customers and your employees. I know it it’s a hard concept for you and foreign to the tone of public conversation in the western world right now, but it’s time to accept responsibility for what AA has become and chart a course that improves the safety and enjoyment of your employees and the public. Your inability to do what other airlines are able to do is yet another reason why customers will choose other options over AA.

  16. All the South Floridian’s getting their panties in a bunch: Gary is referring to the pax flying TO South Florida, not the residents who actually live there. Calm down.

    And these incidents will continue as long as they are permitted to happen outside the airport: if you can punch a random old lady on the streets of Manhattan and not face any punishment, of course you’ll assume the same applies on the aircraft (yes, I know, it is a different situation/jurisdiction and all, but these folks aren’t lawyers)

  17. After flying over 4 million miles, 3 million on AA, I’ve never seen any these violent incidents. I do see businessmen chatting on their phones and working on their laptops until they are reminded by flight attendants to turn them off. Half of my travel is international and I see much more compliance with airline rules overseas. The problem is us! As Americans, we seem to have a culture that evokes the notion that rules are for other people, but voluntary for us. Somehow, we Americans feel empowered to do whatever we want, whenever we want to do it, and say whatever we want, regardless of how it impacts other people. I rarely see that attitude in other countries. That’s why internationally, we are stereotyped at “ugly Americans.” To overcome this, we need to follow the law, respect the rules established by businesses that we choose to work with, and respect each other regardless of their background or politics.

    There’s no such thing as “low quality” people, nor what one of the above commenters called “unemployed trash.” When we label others this way, we are saying more about ourselves than about the people we are labeling and at the same time, we are justifying mistreatment of people that differ from ourselves.

    In this particular incident, as with any other where the passenger doesn’t follow the rules, they should be given at least one warning that they could be removed from the aircraft if they don’t comply. If the warning is ignored, the passenger should be peaceably removed. If the flight is in progress, and the noncompliance is due to use of a device such as a phone or laptop, perhaps that item could be temporarily confiscated and locked away for 30 minutes (or the duration of the flight).

    Finally, regarding flight attendants. Personally, with the exception of Southwest, I see little difference between those working for AA as compared to DL or UA. Although there are outliers, most treat their customers with respect and provide great service. At Southwest, they add a bit of fun to the equation.

    Cheers

  18. @Brian Karnofsky – No there are low quality people. And it has nothing to do with race. There’s white trash, black trash, Asian trash. Usually uneducated who cannot think beyond 10 seconds into the future. Look to fighting first because they cannot articulate well enough to have meaningful discourse. Not sure why south Florida keeps being brought up but it is funny MIA is a wasteland of an airport and a lot of these issues seem to be related in one way or another to that area. I completely agree about Americans thinking rules are for others.

    Maybe you have been lucky on AA but I see a noticeable difference between DA and AA FAs.

  19. American Airlines, please add this verbiage to your boarding pass. “Punch out a flight attendant, and you will be forever forbidden to travel with us. Then, enjoy your future travel on Spirit Airlines or Allegiant Airlines.”

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