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  • Ellen Sakany

Thinking of Sassing that Flight Attendant? Think Twice then Bite Your Tongue!

We all have been a little cranky – or worse – while traveling. Flying typically involves waking up at odd hours, waiting on lines, and enduring invasive TSA security procedures. None of that is pleasant, but it’s not necessarily the worst of it. Sitting in a giant, cramped sardine can for hours with one’s knees smashed into one’s chest could test even a monk’s patience. So what happens when something goes wrong on your flight? Let’s say you are seated next to a rude slob. What if the flight attendant spills a drink on you? My best advice is this: before you get hot under the collar, count to ten. Then count some more until you are no longer annoyed or angry.


In no event should you ever be rude or confrontational with a flight attendant or cause a stir. “What do you mean?” you say, “Isn’t the customer always right?” In most instances, on the ground, people can express strong dismay to a service provider and walk away without repercussions. However, if you express yourself in a way that a flight attendant feels is interfering with his duties, you could land yourself in a lot of hot water pursuant to 49 U.S. Code § 46504 (Interference with flight crew members and attendants).


Here is the language of the statue:

An individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both. However, if a dangerous weapon is used in assaulting or intimidating the member or attendant, the individual shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

Yes, you read that correctly. If you behave in a way that a flight attend believes is intimidating and lessens her ability to perform her duties, you could be IMPRISIONED FOR 20 YEARS. The statute is unbelievably broad and vague but unless it’s declared unconstitutional for those reasons, it stands.

If you decide that your flight attendant has not given adequate attention or remediation to a complaint and you raise your voice or threaten some future action against her or the airline, that could be deemed intimidation. It’s also best not to get into an argument or an altercation with anyone else on the plane because that could also be deemed as interference. The bottom line is that you have very few rights on an airplane. The airline and its staff have all the power. If you act inappropriately in a flight crew’s opinion, you are in legal jeopardy. Don’t take that chance. If you feel you have been treated inappropriately on a plane, quietly gather your proof and write to the airline when you are safely on the ground.

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