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Don’t Mess With Your Flight Attendant

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) is lobbying the government to adopt several counter-terrorism measures the union is proposing. The measures include:

  • Mandatory hand-to-hand combat training for all flight attendants
  • Special communications equipment so flight crew can easily communicate during a crisis or emergency situation
  • Standardize (and, one would assume, enforce) carry-on sizes
  • Shut down in-flight Wi-Fi during extremely high threat periods

Leaving aside for a moment whether or not any of this is necessary, I think it’s a fascinating and rather sad reflection on the current state of affairs when the idea of training flight attendants for hand-to-hand combat is not only serious, but taken into consideration by the government. “For better or for worse, once the cabin doors close, the flight attendants are the last line of defense,” Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the association, told the Times.

As it stands, flight crew can volunteer to receive hand-to-hand combat training, but must do so on their own time. The proposed measures would likely fold such instruction into the standard training procedure.

But while the combat training—and, subsequently, the image of genteel flight attendants grappling with terrorists—will get a lot of attention, the carry-on size suggestion intrigued me the most. The reasoning here is that without enforced, standard sizes, flight crew are too preoccupied with loading overheads and finding space for oversized carry-ons to notice suspicious individuals coming onboard. If sizes were standard and, it bears repeating, enforced, flight crew could focus on their real job: getting passengers situated and, in today’s climate, looking for red-flag passengers.

Now, back to the hand-to-hand combat—I’m neither equipped to judge nor certain what I think, though my first reaction was, “Isn’t that why we have air marshals?” Then again, air marshals simply can’t be present on every single flight, so having trained individuals aboard all flights might not be a bad idea. And while the role of last line of defense seems like a heavy burden to place on a flight attendants’ shoulders, it’s important to remember that this is their lives we’re talking about (and ours), not just their jobs. Perhaps self-defense training should be something all flight attendants are entitled to, not just those with the time and resources to take courses on their own. If nothing else, it might cut down on the harassment flight crew receive from overly imbibed passengers—no small victory, to be sure.

Readers, what do you think about all this? Should flight attendants, as part of our last line of defense, receive this kind of intense training? Is this putting too much responsibility on their shoulders? Is it even necessary?

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