Air Rage Targeted By Airline Employees — (Chicago Tribune)

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Chicago Tribune

By Jill Blackman, Tribune Staff Writer

July 06, 2000

Airline workers at O’Hare International Airport are sending a message to passengers and lawmakers: Unruly passengers who lose control and get physical with flight personnel will not be tolerated.

Joining hundreds of other airline employees around the globe, unions representing flight attendants declared today a “day of action” against so-called air rage, saying it is potentially dangerous.

They also said it is occurring all too often. Incidents of air rage around the world increased from 1,132 in 1994 to 5,416 in 1997, according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation, an umbrella organization for the unions. United States flight crews have also reported a huge increase in unruly passengers, with incidents increasing from 66 in 1997 to more than 500 last year, according to the federation.

The workers at O’Hare are educating travelers and government officials about the dangers of disruptive passenger behavior.

“We want to let the passengers know about the dangers of air rage and try to prevent it before it happens,” said Association of Flight Attendants spokesman Jeff Zack.

Over the past few years, several individuals have been hit with federal charges for violent behavior on flights that came through O’Hare:

In July 1998, a federal jury convicted Dennis Gerber, of Aurora, for assaulting a flight attendant on an international flight from England. He was sentenced to two years of probation, six months of home confinement and 200 hours of community service. He was also ordered to pay $310 for the victim’s medical costs and $7,500 in fines.

In September 1996, Christopher Massey, a British citizen on a flight from San Francisco to Chicago, was accused of headbutting a flight crew member, breaking the bridge of his nose. Massey’s lawyer later said his client suffered from manic depression and was taking antidepressant medications.

Flying from London to Chicago in March 1998, Jacek Bialas attempted to remove his trousers as he walked down an aisle and then fought with several flight attendants. A Polish citizen, Bialas was booted out of the country after serving 16 days in custody.

As an American Eagle flight landed at O’Hare International Airport in 1997, Richard D. Bowers of Berea, Ohio, beat and kicked a flight attendant. Bowers was sentenced to 15 months in prison and ordered to receive comprehensive drug treatment.

The federation wants governments to sign an international agreement that would close some legal loopholes to ensure prosecution of air-rage offenders. It also wants airlines and airport authorities to provide training and restraint equipment, and to introduce clearer security policies.

In the U.S., the fine for assaulting a crew member can be up to $25,000, FAA spokesman Paul Turk said. Disrupting a flight can carry a sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.