American Airlines CEO says he’s ‘very concerned’ about safety on flights

The chief executive of American Airlines has said that the attacks on flight attendants on a recent cross-country flight constituted one of the “worst incidents in the history of the airline industry.” Jeff Smisek made the remarks to USA Today’s editorial board, recounting one particular incident on American’s flight from LaGuardia Airport to Detroit, where two male passengers broke a man’s arm.

Ariel Mejia-Mejia and Jonathan Ferrell were jailed in Michigan as their case was pending. Mejia-Mejia, according to his former employer, arrived on board with a blade at her waist — the scuffle had occurred, the airline said, after Mejia-Mejia and Ferrell started arguing over a bag.

Smisek said that the number of assaults on flight attendants had increased dramatically in recent years, in response to the increasing use of electronic devices and travelers seeking more control in the cabin. He did not provide specifics.

If Mejia-Mejia’s bag became a source of disagreement, she could have argued that an iPad was stolen, he said. “I think people are looking to have some form of control in the cabin,” he said. “Why shouldn’t you be able to look at your own device?”

The Federal Aviation Administration “has had a lot of regulation on individual devices that people bring to the airplane” and “passengers have flown the skies without being exposed to these assaults,” Smisek said. “There are people that have more leisure or business purpose and they want to have some control over their devices, and frankly, it is out of frustration with the airlines and security around me that we see more people willing to do it, and it is out of frustration with the airlines and security around me that we see more people willing to do it.”

The chairman of the civil liberties group Electronic Privacy Information Center called out Smisek’s comments. “American Airlines tries to defend this behavior as a reaction to cabin interdiction, and it is an even worse distortion than usual,” said Marc Rotenberg, a former journalist and longtime privacy advocate. “The best way to respond to this crisis of flying, and its importance, is not to obscure the crisis and minimize the responsibility passengers and flight attendants bear. The only rational response would be to fully impose the highest security standards on every flight, and to treat assault with the strictest possible punishments. If passengers and flight attendants don’t want to face heavy fines, this is a policy that their members, who are supposed to serve as a measure of balance to the company, would demand.”

Read the full story at USA Today.

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