Some flight attendants say the pandemic has made passengers less patient and more likely to get aggressive with them

  • Flight attendants told Insider hostility from passengers have increased over the last year.
  • Airlines have banned thousands of US passengers for violating onboard mask policies.
  • Some flight attendants say they expect to police mask even as travel rebounds this summer.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Between the pandemic, the election, and nationwide protests, the past year has been contentious – and that’s been reflected during airplane rides, flight attendants say.

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Some flight attendants who spoke with Insider said hostility from passengers and tensions on the plane have increased over the last year, and haven’t calmed down even as US COVID-19 infections slow.

Viral videos circulated all year depicting passengers getting thrown off flights for refusing to wear masks. Airlines have banned thousands of passengers for violating onboard mask policies. The Federal Aviation Administration recently fined a JetBlue passenger $32,750 for refusing to wear a mask on board, throwing bottles of alcohol, and hitting crew members.

“You have some people that think the mask is a complete farce and it’s ridiculous, and then you have some passengers that are terrified that they’re going to catch COVID on the airplane,” one San Francisco-based flight attendant who wished to remain anonymous told Insider.

“You’re trying to be as patient as possible and sympathize with both perspectives because as a flight attendant, you’re basically a mediator, that’s a huge part of our job.”

Insider spoke with seven flight attendants on how interactions with passengers changed during the pandemic. All flight attendants interviewed work for major US carriers, though they asked not to name their employers in order to speak openly. Insider confirmed the employment of all the flight attendants featured, including those who wished to stay anonymous so they could speak without fear of retaliation from airlines.

Got a tip? If you’re a flight attendant with a story to share, email the author at [email protected]

The pandemic has changed the way flight attendants interact with passengers.

Gallery: I flew Delta for the first time since it stopped blocking middle seats and found cracks showing in its mask enforcement- here’s what it was like (Business Insider)

  • Slide 1 of 57:  Delta Air Lines stopped blocking middle seats on May 1, after more than a year with the policy.  The strategy was key in differentiating Delta from its competitors in terms of health and safety. I found the airline adjusting fine to the change on its aircraft but not in all of its airports. See more stories on Insider's business page. Read the original article on Business Insider

  • Slide 2 of 57: Delta Air Lines is no longer blocking middle seats onboard its aircraft.

  • Slide 3 of 57: The 13-month era came to an end on May 1, when Delta became the last US airline to end the pandemic policy that started in April 2020.

  • Slide 4 of 57: The program was abandoned by all airlines as more flyers took to the skies, and scientific studies proved the effectiveness of mask-wearing in stopping the onboard spread of COVID-19.

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  • Slide 5 of 57: Along with Delta's other safety measures, the policy made the airline one of the best airlines to fly during the pandemic, as Insider found on numerous flights since June. By not blocking seats, Delta is forced to fall back on its other policies in convincing travelers to choose the airline.

  • Slide 6 of 57: I flew Delta home to New York from Phoenix via Minneapolis on the first day flights were being booked to capacity.

  • Slide 7 of 57: I walked into Terminal 3 at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport and found the Delta check-in area completely retrofitted with new safety features.

  • Slide 8 of 57: Social distancing placards guided the way to plexiglass-covered check-in counters...

  • Slide 9 of 57: Mask reminder signage was placed on stanchions along the check-in line.

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  • Slide 10 of 57: Not all travelers abided by the six feet rule but it was a good showing on Delta's part.

  • Slide 11 of 57: I opted to use the self-serve kiosks to avoid the line. They weren't spaced six feet apart but were also not right on top of each other.

  • Slide 12 of 57: Then came the health acknowledgment, which is standard on most US airlines now. I had to confirm that I hadn't tested positive for COVID-19, hadn't been exposed to the virus, and would comply with Delta's face covering rules.

  • Slide 13 of 57: Ticket in hand, I made my way to the gate. Delta uses the new Terminal 3 South Concourse in Phoenix, which was similarly retrofitted to include social distancing reminders.

  • Slide 14 of 57: The gate had the same setup of social distancing measures as check-in including floor placards, mask reminders, plexiglass partitions, and hand sanitizer.

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  • Slide 15 of 57: Phoenix is a popular airport for Delta but certainly not a hub. Still, it was impressive to see the airline go all out here as it would in one of its main bases.

  • Slide 16 of 57: Some seats in the gate area were also blocked by the airline for distancing.

  • Slide 17 of 57: Taking us to Minneapolis was a massive Boeing 767-400ER. Delta has been using more of these wide-body aircraft on domestic routes since they're not needed for long-haul international flights right now.

  • Slide 18 of 57: Most of the plane boarded from the back to the front. Delta is one of the few carriers still maintaining the back-to-front boarding procedure after competitors like JetBlue and United abandoned it in recent months.

  • Slide 19 of 57: Even the jetway had social distancing reminders. These are also largely ignored by passengers but it's still a good showing that Delta took the time to install them.

  • Slide 20 of 57: Flight attendants were extremely diligent at the boarding door, reminding passengers to wear their masks and offering new ones to those who didn't have proper coverings. One of the passengers ahead of me was told she needed a new mask and even I was told to fix my mask as it wasn't adequately fitted to my face.

  • Slide 21 of 57: All passengers were also given Purell wipes at boarding. Delta is also one of the few airlines to still do this.

  • Slide 22 of 57: I was upgraded to first class for the flight to Minneapolis. It's one of the benefits of Delta flying wide-body aircraft on leisure routes with minimal business travelers.

  • Slide 23 of 57: The seat was impeccably clean and I had no concerns about it being sanitized properly.

  • Slide 24 of 57: I settled into my seat and noticed flight attendants frequently pacing the aisle with bags ready to collect any trash, including the wipes. The cabin offered an incredibly private experience, away from a nearly full economy cabin.

  • Slide 25 of 57: Multiple announcements were made during boarding to remind flyers of the federal mask rules.

  • Slide 26 of 57: Read More: I went behind the scenes at JFK airport to see how Delta is overhauling its airport experience to try to convince flyers air travel is safe

  • Slide 27 of 57: Flight attendants began the in-flight service just after takeoff. It took a bit longer than my last Delta flight, but for good reason: snacks and drinks are back.

  • Slide 28 of 57: A selection of drinks ranging from sodas to juices, as well as coffee and tea, were available for the first time since last year. A wider selection of alcoholic beverages was also available, including pre-mixed drinks.

  • Slide 29 of 57: But first-class meals were still relegated to snack boxes, with two available on this flight. Economy class was just given snacks like almonds or Biscoff cookies.

  • Slide 30 of 57: And while there is a greater selection of drinks, they do come in miniature cans. It's a good start but other airlines are back to offering full-size cans.

  • Slide 31 of 57: I ordered both snack boxes to see exactly what they offered.

  • Slide 32 of 57: The bistro snack box that included the traditional meat, cheese, and cracker assortment that is standard on all airlines. It also includes some other goodies including Oreo cookies, gummy bears, Tic Tacs, a Kind bar, and potato chips.

  • Slide 33 of 57: Next came the market snack box, which offers beef jerky, almonds, a bar of Ghirardelli chocolate, a protein bar, a fruit bar, popped chips, and a mint. Both had their highlights, notably the beef jerky, almonds, and gummy bears, but didn't replace the traditional class hot meals.

  • Slide 34 of 57: I walked to the back of the plane mid-flight and was taken aback by the sight of a nearly full flight. I'd, of course, seen this on other airlines but not Delta.

  • Slide 35 of 57: Delta held out the longest of any US airline but ultimately had to start filling planes. Most were wearing masks but I did walk by just after snacks and drinks were handed out so some had taken off their covering to eat or drink.

  • Slide 36 of 57: One thing that set Delta apart from the rest, more so than just its seat blocking policies, was that it went above and beyond with its safety features. In the lavatory, for example, a placard reminded passengers to wash their hands for 20 seconds.

  • Slide 37 of 57: Foot pedals that flush the toilet were also installed in the lavatories so that don't have to use their hands.

  • Slide 38 of 57: The three-hour flight to Minneapolis soon came to an end after a truly uneventful flight. I highly recommend this routing for those making the journey from Phoenix to New York if a connection is required since both flights go by fairly quickly.

  • Slide 39 of 57: I said "goodbye" to my first class seat and went to my next flight. This flight was nothing short of perfect in terms of health and safety.

  • Slide 40 of 57: What came next is where the cracks started to show. I noticed while walking to my gate that there were some flyers flouting the mask rule. While there will always be some that will slip through the cracks, Delta staff didn't try to enforce the rule when they came into contact with the scofflaws.

  • Slide 41 of 57: It was a surprise to me considering Delta has been very proactive with mask enforcement, as I saw on my flight prior, and banning passengers that don't comply.

  • Slide 42 of 57: Even with the multiple reminders to wear a mask in the airport, Delta staff are supposed to be the final line of defense in enforcing the rule.

  • Slide 43 of 57: I arrived at my gate and saw many of the same safety features as I saw in Phoenix.

  • Slide 44 of 57: Face covering reminders, plexiglass partitions, and hand sanitizer stations were all out in force.

  • Slide 45 of 57: Overhead signage also said the aircraft was being sanitized and that face coverings must be worn.

  • Slide 46 of 57: Delta has embraced all forms of communication to get its health and safety messages across, and it's another thing that sets the airline apart from competitors.

  • Slide 47 of 57: Seats in the gate area, however, weren't blocked off as they were in Phoenix.

  • Slide 48 of 57: Once more, the aircraft was impeccably clean. Before we even boarded I could even hear the gate agent double-checking to ensure that it was cleaned to standards.

  • Slide 49 of 57: I was upgraded again for this flight since it was less than half full. The seat was spotless.

  • Slide 50 of 57: We once again boarded from back-to-front and flight attendants distributed Purell wipes.

  • Slide 51 of 57: Seat-back entertainment screens showed health and safety reminders during boarding. I hadn't seen this on my other Delta flights but was glad the in-flight entertainment system was being put to good use.

  • Slide 52 of 57: The same face mask reminders were made as on the first flight but enforcement was once again tricky. We were delayed by around an hour leaving Minneapolis and were allowed to deplane. Some used it as an excuse to take off their masks.

  • Slide 53 of 57: But we were soon airborne and passengers once again donned their masks. The in-flight serve was identical in first class, with a choice of two snack boxes for a meal.

  • Slide 54 of 57: I ordered both snack boxes again and knew which snacks to pick out of each for the perfect meal.

  • Slide 55 of 57: I also tried one of the pre-mixed cocktails that come in cans. Flight attendants poured out the Old Fashioned into a cup with ice, and it was surprisingly good.

  • Slide 56 of 57: Deplaning was the only chaotic part of the flight. We were delayed leaving Minneapolis and some passengers had to rush off of the plane to catch connecting flights.

  • Slide 57 of 57: But other than that, the flight was mostly uneventful and enjoyable.

I flew Delta for the first time since it stopped blocking middle seats and found cracks showing in its mask enforcement- here’s what it was like

  • Delta Air Lines stopped blocking middle seats on May 1, after more than a year with the policy.
  • The strategy was key in differentiating Delta from its competitors in terms of health and safety.
  • I found the airline adjusting fine to the change on its aircraft but not in all of its airports.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Delta Air Lines is no longer blocking middle seats onboard its aircraft.

The 13-month era came to an end on May 1, when Delta became the last US airline to end the pandemic policy that started in April 2020.

The program was abandoned by all airlines as more flyers took to the skies, and scientific studies proved the effectiveness of mask-wearing in stopping the onboard spread of COVID-19.

Along with Delta’s other safety measures, the policy made the airline one of the best airlines to fly during the pandemic, as Insider found on numerous flights since June. By not blocking seats, Delta is forced to fall back on its other policies in convincing travelers to choose the airline.

I flew Delta home to New York from Phoenix via Minneapolis on the first day flights were being booked to capacity.

I walked into Terminal 3 at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport and found the Delta check-in area completely retrofitted with new safety features.

Social distancing placards guided the way to plexiglass-covered check-in counters…

Mask reminder signage was placed on stanchions along the check-in line.

Not all travelers abided by the six feet rule but it was a good showing on Delta’s part.

I opted to use the self-serve kiosks to avoid the line. They weren’t spaced six feet apart but were also not right on top of each other.

Then came the health acknowledgment, which is standard on most US airlines now. I had to confirm that I hadn’t tested positive for COVID-19, hadn’t been exposed to the virus, and would comply with Delta’s face covering rules.

Ticket in hand, I made my way to the gate. Delta uses the new Terminal 3 South Concourse in Phoenix, which was similarly retrofitted to include social distancing reminders.

The gate had the same setup of social distancing measures as check-in including floor placards, mask reminders, plexiglass partitions, and hand sanitizer.

Phoenix is a popular airport for Delta but certainly not a hub. Still, it was impressive to see the airline go all out here as it would in one of its main bases.

Some seats in the gate area were also blocked by the airline for distancing.

Taking us to Minneapolis was a massive Boeing 767-400ER. Delta has been using more of these wide-body aircraft on domestic routes since they’re not needed for long-haul international flights right now.

Most of the plane boarded from the back to the front. Delta is one of the few carriers still maintaining the back-to-front boarding procedure after competitors like JetBlue and United abandoned it in recent months.

Even the jetway had social distancing reminders. These are also largely ignored by passengers but it’s still a good showing that Delta took the time to install them.

Flight attendants were extremely diligent at the boarding door, reminding passengers to wear their masks and offering new ones to those who didn’t have proper coverings. One of the passengers ahead of me was told she needed a new mask and even I was told to fix my mask as it wasn’t adequately fitted to my face.

All passengers were also given Purell wipes at boarding. Delta is also one of the few airlines to still do this.

I was upgraded to first class for the flight to Minneapolis. It’s one of the benefits of Delta flying wide-body aircraft on leisure routes with minimal business travelers.

The seat was impeccably clean and I had no concerns about it being sanitized properly.

I settled into my seat and noticed flight attendants frequently pacing the aisle with bags ready to collect any trash, including the wipes. The cabin offered an incredibly private experience, away from a nearly full economy cabin.

Multiple announcements were made during boarding to remind flyers of the federal mask rules.

The lead flight attendant outlined the specifics of what Delta was doing to keep flyers safe, what it calls the “Delta CareStandard.” Soon after, we blasted off into the Arizona sky.

Read More: I went behind the scenes at JFK airport to see how Delta is overhauling its airport experience to try to convince flyers air travel is safe

Flight attendants began the in-flight service just after takeoff. It took a bit longer than my last Delta flight, but for good reason: snacks and drinks are back.

A selection of drinks ranging from sodas to juices, as well as coffee and tea, were available for the first time since last year. A wider selection of alcoholic beverages was also available, including pre-mixed drinks.

But first-class meals were still relegated to snack boxes, with two available on this flight. Economy class was just given snacks like almonds or Biscoff cookies.

And while there is a greater selection of drinks, they do come in miniature cans. It’s a good start but other airlines are back to offering full-size cans.

I ordered both snack boxes to see exactly what they offered.

The bistro snack box that included the traditional meat, cheese, and cracker assortment that is standard on all airlines. It also includes some other goodies including Oreo cookies, gummy bears, Tic Tacs, a Kind bar, and potato chips.

Next came the market snack box, which offers beef jerky, almonds, a bar of Ghirardelli chocolate, a protein bar, a fruit bar, popped chips, and a mint. Both had their highlights, notably the beef jerky, almonds, and gummy bears, but didn’t replace the traditional class hot meals.

I walked to the back of the plane mid-flight and was taken aback by the sight of a nearly full flight. I’d, of course, seen this on other airlines but not Delta.

Delta held out the longest of any US airline but ultimately had to start filling planes. Most were wearing masks but I did walk by just after snacks and drinks were handed out so some had taken off their covering to eat or drink.

One thing that set Delta apart from the rest, more so than just its seat blocking policies, was that it went above and beyond with its safety features. In the lavatory, for example, a placard reminded passengers to wash their hands for 20 seconds.

Foot pedals that flush the toilet were also installed in the lavatories so that don’t have to use their hands.

The three-hour flight to Minneapolis soon came to an end after a truly uneventful flight. I highly recommend this routing for those making the journey from Phoenix to New York if a connection is required since both flights go by fairly quickly.

I said “goodbye” to my first class seat and went to my next flight. This flight was nothing short of perfect in terms of health and safety.

What came next is where the cracks started to show. I noticed while walking to my gate that there were some flyers flouting the mask rule. While there will always be some that will slip through the cracks, Delta staff didn’t try to enforce the rule when they came into contact with the scofflaws.

It was a surprise to me considering Delta has been very proactive with mask enforcement, as I saw on my flight prior, and banning passengers that don’t comply.

Even with the multiple reminders to wear a mask in the airport, Delta staff are supposed to be the final line of defense in enforcing the rule.

I arrived at my gate and saw many of the same safety features as I saw in Phoenix.

Face covering reminders, plexiglass partitions, and hand sanitizer stations were all out in force.

Overhead signage also said the aircraft was being sanitized and that face coverings must be worn.

Delta has embraced all forms of communication to get its health and safety messages across, and it’s another thing that sets the airline apart from competitors.

Seats in the gate area, however, weren’t blocked off as they were in Phoenix.

Once more, the aircraft was impeccably clean. Before we even boarded I could even hear the gate agent double-checking to ensure that it was cleaned to standards.

I was upgraded again for this flight since it was less than half full. The seat was spotless.

We once again boarded from back-to-front and flight attendants distributed Purell wipes.

Seat-back entertainment screens showed health and safety reminders during boarding. I hadn’t seen this on my other Delta flights but was glad the in-flight entertainment system was being put to good use.

The same face mask reminders were made as on the first flight but enforcement was once again tricky. We were delayed by around an hour leaving Minneapolis and were allowed to deplane. Some used it as an excuse to take off their masks.

But we were soon airborne and passengers once again donned their masks. The in-flight serve was identical in first class, with a choice of two snack boxes for a meal.

I ordered both snack boxes again and knew which snacks to pick out of each for the perfect meal.

I also tried one of the pre-mixed cocktails that come in cans. Flight attendants poured out the Old Fashioned into a cup with ice, and it was surprisingly good.

Deplaning was the only chaotic part of the flight. We were delayed leaving Minneapolis and some passengers had to rush off of the plane to catch connecting flights.

But other than that, the flight was mostly uneventful and enjoyable.

Soon after his inauguration, President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring passengers wear masks on board planes – but flight attendants said the law didn’t deter passengers from rebelling.

Daz, who became a flight attendant during the pandemic, said he was surprised at how many people did not want to comply with the federal mask mandate. Though his favorite part of being a flight attendant is helping make passengers feel comfortable, Daz said it can be intimidating getting angry people who don’t want to wear a mask to comply to the rules. He added his captain will back him up in tense situations.

Similarly, flight attendant Jenn Ayala said one of her favorite parts of the job is greeting passengers and answering their questions, but she said she has dealt with some people angry about the mask mandate. Though she has not dealt with an altercation herself on board, she’s heard the horror stories of flight attendants dealing with rowdy passengers during the pandemic.

“There’s really not much you can do, you can’t force anyone to do anything, but if you want to fly, a mask over your nose isn’t going to hurt for too long,” Ayala said.

A post shared by Jenn ✈ Flight Attendant (@jenn__ayala)

Some flight attendants worry tense relationships between passengers will persist after the pandemic.

Part of the reason for the aggression was due to an influx of new travelers taking advantage of cheap fares and a decline in business travelers, said one Los Angeles-based flight attendant who wished to remain anonymous.

Airlines have cut fares to lure travelers as the number of COVID-19 infections in the US declines. For instance, consumers recently jumped on $226 round-trip flights from Philadelphia to Tokyo, and Avelo, the new low-cost carrier offering $19 flights to some destinations, launched this spring.

The flight attendant said cheap flights are attracting first time flyers, and added she’s had issues with passengers unfamiliar with flight policies refusing to wear masks or listen to other rules. She said passengers in general were less likely to listen to crew members, and she has seen fights breaking out at airports and people being escorted off flights due during the pandemic.

“We never had to deal with any of that before,” the flight attendant said. “Before it was a rare day we threw someone off a flight, but now it’s a lot more common.”

Though one Chicago-based flight attendant said she’s experienced a rise in reports flight attendants need to fill out over passengers violating the mask policy, she is looking forward to travel coming back. She said she expects to continue to policy mask wearing onboard airplanes – where even fully vaccinated people must keep their masks on according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – but sees it as an extention of her job to keep everyone safe on board.

“The thing is, our job has always been about safety,” the flight attendant said. “Our priority has always been safety, and masks are a part of safety, so I don’t feel like it’s outside the scope of my job.”

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