Flight attendants have a long list of duties and rules to follow when it comes to dealing with passengers. Add one more to the list for United Airlines: Don’t duct tape passengers to their seats.
In a memo sent to flight attendants last week, United reminded its workers that restraining unruly passengers with the cloth-backed tape is never to be among the tools in their playbook.
“Please remember that there are designated items on board that may be used in difficult situations, and alternative measures such as tape should never be used,” the memo states.
The use of duct tape has drawn attention lately when two flight crews on other airlines used the method to restrain unruly passengers.
On August 1, Frontier Airlines flight attendants used duct tape to restrain an Ohio man who allegedly groped two female flight attendants and punched a male flight attendant. Video of the incident was widely circulated on social media.
In mid-July, an American Airlines crew duct taped a female passenger to her seat on a flight from Dallas to Charlotte when she allegedly attempted to open the airplane door mid-flight. She rebuked efforts to calm her down and allegedly bit and kicked flight attendants while screaming profanities.
“As you’ve likely seen, a few airlines have recently made news about the way they’ve handled situations onboard,” the United memo reads. “The overwhelming majority of our customers have been on their best behavior throughout the pandemic and returned to our flights with confidence and enthusiasm. When things have evolved, you’ve relied on all aspects of in-flight safety training, including de-escalation.”
The memo urges de-escalation techniques, the use of the safety manual to guide decisions, and to “always use your best judgment.”
Duct tape, while rare, has been used to restrain passengers on flights over the years, including on United flights in 2003 and 2008, according to the Washington Post.
“It’s common to use duct tape to secure a person who represents a threat to the flight or others,” Jeff Price, a professor of aviation management in Denver, told the Post.
The Federal Aviation Administration said crew members have some flexibility when it comes to unruly passengers.
“The flight crew is responsible for cabin safety and has latitude on how to handle individual situations,” the agency said in a statement to the Post.
The union representing flight attendants understands that duct tape is extreme, but it is backing the Frontier crew that resorted to that measure this month.
“When (the passenger) refused to comply after multiple attempts to de-escalate, the crew was forced to restrain the passenger with the tools available to them on board,” Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson told Newsweek. “We are supporting the crew.”
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