July 21, 2009

Udall Proposal to Make Skies, Roads Safer Gets Committee Nod

Measure Requires Airline Training for Air Rage, Intoxicated Passengers

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., reported today that his legislation to help prevent drunk driving and dangerous "air rage" incidents won approval from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, of which Udall is a member. Udall's proposal would require airlines to train flight attendants and gate agents on recognizing and dealing with intoxicated or belligerent passengers. Current federal regulations prohibit an intoxicated person from boarding a flight,but it is not mandatory for airlines to provide training to ensure that regulations are obeyed.

Udall's legislation has been endorsed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and organizations representing flight attendants, pilots, federal air marshals, airport law enforcement, and air traffic controllers. These include the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA).

"My legislation aims to make both our skies and our roads safer," said Udall. "As New Mexico's Attorney General, I fought for more effective alcohol server training for bars and restaurants and given the dangers of passengers being overserved on flights, it's commonsense that we should prepare our airline personnel the same way. My colleagues on the Commerce Committee have shown their overwhelming support for my measure, and I will continue working to make sure the measure is passed by the full Senate and signed into law."

Udall's proposal was included in bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration that passed the Committee unanimously.

Udall was prompted to research airline alcohol server protocol in 2006 after a drunk driving accident in New Mexico that resulted in the deaths of five family members. The driver who caused the crash had been drinking on an airline before the accident.

During his research on airline personnel training, Udall discovered that "air rage" incidents-dangerous outbursts by airline passengers often fueled by alcohol-have risen 400 percent since 2000. Roughly 10,000 incidents occur each year in the United States. His proposal would train airline personnel on how to prevent these incidents and how to address them when they occur.

On June 30, a flight was rerouted to Albuquerque after a passenger removed his clothes and refused to put them back on. When a flight attendant attempted to cover him, the passenger became violent. The man was subdued only after the attendant received help from two off-duty law enforcement officials who happened to be passengers on the plane.

In some cases, disruptive passengers have attempted to storm the cockpit and open emergency exits when flight attendants refused to continue serving alcohol to them.

Flight attendants are often the only personnel capable of controlling who boards a plane, onboard alcohol consumption, and outbursts when they occur. Many may never receive training on how to execute this important responsibility.

Udall's proposal was endorsed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, one of the nation's most prominent voices for efforts to combat driving while intoxicated.

"I have heard horror stories of passengers being over-served [alcohol] during their flight and then driving home from the airport only to injure or kill an innocent person," said Laura Dean Mooney, National President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The Udall legislation "will help MADD in its Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving."

The Udall legislation has also received widespread support from organizations representing aviation professionals.

"Often air traffic controllers are forced to reroute planes when flight crews fear that drunken, disruptive passengers may pose a threat to the crew," said Patrick Forrey, President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. The Udall legislation "would require all airline flight attendants as well as gate agents receive the necessary training to be able to take appropriate actions to prevent an unnecessary calamity from occurring."

"The [Udall legislation] is much needed and an appropriate step in the right direction," said Patricia Friend, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA).

Finally, Udall's legislation is supported by Professor Andrew Thomas, one of the country's leading authorities on air rage and its consequences.

Said Thomas, "For nearly two decades, the menace of disruptive passengers has been one of the most pervasive threats to aviation security. This legislation is a major step in reducing the risk posed by this issue. By finally empowering flight crew and gate agents with the needed tools and knowledge, aviation safety will be measurably enhanced."