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Saturday, November 26, 2022

TSA Brings Back Self Defense Training as Unruly Passenger Incidents Increase

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will be restarting Crew Member Self-Defense (CMSD) training in early July. The program was previously paused due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Flight crew members keep passengers safe while onboard an aircraft. With unruly passenger incidents on the rise, TSA remains committed to equip flight crews with another tool to keep the skies safe.

“Through this training program, TSA’s Federal Air Marshals are able to impart their specialized expertise in defending against and deescalating an attack while in an aircraft environment,” said Darby LaJoye, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the TSA Administrator. “While it is our hope that flight crew members never have need for these tactics, it is critical to everyone’s safety that they be well-prepared to handle situations as they arise.”

The TSA CMSD Training Program furnishes certified instructors to provide flight crew members with effective defensive measure techniques for responding against an attacker in a commercial passenger or cargo aircraft. During the training, flight crew members learn to identify and deter potential threats, and if needed, apply the self-defense techniques against attackers.  The voluntary four-hour training is offered to flight crew members free of charge and is held at 24 locations around the United States. All active flight crew members for domestic carriers are eligible to register for the training.

Assaulting or threatening a member of the flight crew is a federal crime and perpetrators may face civil penalties, criminal fines, or imprisonment. It also causes significant delay and disruption to travel.

“Passengers do not arrive at an airport or board a plane with the intent of becoming unruly or violent; however, what is an exciting return to travel for some may be a more difficult experience for others, which can lead to unexpected, and unacceptable, behaviors,” said LaJoye. 

Two separate incidents this month have triggered referrals to law enforcement for passengers in Louisville, KY and Denver, CO. In Louisville, a passenger allegedly assaulted two TSA officers while attempting to breach the exit lane and is facing state criminal charges for criminal trespass, fleeing and evading police, misdemeanor assault, and resisting arrest. The Denver incident involved a passenger allegedly biting two TSA officers and remains under investigation. Both passengers also face a potential civil penalty of up to $13,910 for each violation of TSA security requirements. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it had received approximately 3,100 reports of unruly behavior by passengers since January 1, 2021. The reports are filed by airlines and FAA said it has investigated the highest number of potential law breaches since records began in 1995 – and this has occurred in a year when traveler numbers were down due to the pandemic.

The 3,100 reports included some 2,350 cases of passengers refusing to comply with the federal facemask mandate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), TSA and the U.S. Department of Transportation reminded the traveling public on May 14 that the requirement to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States still stands.  Masks are also required in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.

As well as federal penalties, airlines can also punish unruly passengers. For example, Southwest Airlines issued a lifetime ban for a passenger who allegedly struck a flight attendant, knocking out two teeth.

Last week, the FAA published details of another eight passengers alleged to have been behaving in an unruly manner, including assaulting aviation workers, striking the roof of the airplane cabin, filming passengers without their consent, and refusing to wear a mask.

And on Friday, a passenger jumped out of a flight that was taxiing from a gate area at Los Angeles International Airport. The FAA said an altercation occurred on board shortly before the passenger exited the plane. An airport spokesperson said the passenger opened the door of the aircraft and activated the emergency slide.

With airports seeing more and more travelers, the issue is of great concern as an unruly passenger could do more than delay a flight reaching its destination. The total number of flights operated in April 2021 have not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels but have increased significantly since the all-time monthly low of 180,151 flights in May 2020. Flights operated in April 2021(471,375) were more than double the flights operated in April 2020 (194,390).

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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