(CNN) — Your checklist for airplane travel this holiday season: High quality, comfortable mask; hand sanitizer; early airport arrival; an easy to remove jacket, shoes, laptop and toiletries for the security checkpoint.
Yet according to flight attendants, pre-planning may not prepare you for the full reality of flying in 2021 — and it’s not just Covid-19.
“You may have seen news reports on the disruptive passengers or conflicts on board airlines this year,” said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents some 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines.
“There have been more than 5,000 disruptive passenger reports sent to the Federal Aviation Administration since the start of this year,” Nelson said. “That’s more disruptions in 2021 than the entire 31-year history of recording such behaviors. And we’re not even done with the year yet!”
CNN spoke to Nelson about what fight attendants want us to know about disruptive passengers — and more — before we board a plane to visit friends and relatives for the holidays.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, works a trip before the pandemic.
Courtesy Association of Flight Attendants-CWA
Sara Nelson: First, it’s very likely a lot of people are traveling for the first time since the pandemic started. And they have forgotten, or just don’t know, that air travel has a whole set of rules to keep everyone safe.
You have to go through security and practically undress to show that you’re not a threat. You can’t smoke — we did that ages ago. Everyone has to wear their seat belts and put their seats and tray tables up.
They also have to wear a mask from the moment they set foot in the airport until they leave the next airport at the end of their journey. And by the way, that’s no longer an airline policy, it’s been a federal requirement since February.
Those federal rules are in place to make sure that we’re keeping a safe space for everyone who is traveling, because not everyone can get vaccinated yet. And it’s very important that people understand why rules are in place. That’s why I’m putting so much emphasis on this.
We truly will not be safe unless everyone follows the rules and we approach this with the spirit that we’re all in this together.
But there’s something bigger going on here. Many people are upset about masks because it’s been made out to be a trigger point by many leaders that people are listening to.
I’m a 25-year flight attendant, and throughout my career when there was something going on socially or politically in this country, we see ramifications on airplanes. And this is absolutely supercharged this year.
A sign about the federal mask requirement is seen as travelers prepare to check in at Miami International Airport on February 01, 2021, the day the new rule became effective.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images