United Tells Flight Crew Not To Use Duct Tape On Passengers

* Article updated 17/08/2021 16:26 UTC with extra information from United*

Recent high-profile disruption incidents have seen US carriers restrain abusive travelers with duct tape. This appears to have become a more common phenomenon since the ongoing global health crisis began. However, United is determined not to deploy such measures, and has instructed staff to refrain from taping abusive passengers to their seats.

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United Airlines has recently asked its cabin crew not to use duct tape to restrain abusive passengers. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Designated de-escalation procedures

In light of recent events, US legacy carrier United Airlines has issued a memo to its flight attendants regarding the use of duct tape to restrain abusive passengers. According to the New York Daily News, the Chicago-based Star Alliance founding member wants cabin crew to stick to using “designated items onboard” to de-escalate such situations.

The directive, issued by United’s Senior Vice President for Inflight Services, John Slater, adds that “alternative measures such as tape should never be used.” The airline itself has not made the headlines for such de-escalation tactics in recent months. Slater’s memo shows that the airline wants to keep it this way. He told flight attendants that:

A few airlines have recently made news about the way they’ve handled situations onboard. The overwhelming majority of our customers have been on their best behavior throughout the pandemic, and returned to our flights with confidence and enthusiasm. When things have evolved, you’ve relied on all aspects of inflight safety training, including de-escalation.”

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United commended the good behavior of most of its passengers. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

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Recent high-profile incidents

As passenger numbers have begun to rise in the US, so have disruption incidents caused by abusive passengers. Simple Flying has reported on several instances in which carriers in the country have resorted to taping disruptive guests to their seats.

American Airlines has been involved in two of these, with the first taking place in mid-July. This saw a female first class passenger assault a flight attendant before attempting to enter the cockpit. This month, a 13-year-old boy was also subjected to a duct tape-based restraint on an American flight after trying to kick through an A321’s window.

Elsewhere in the US, ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines has also made the headlines for using such a de-escalation tactic. At the beginning of the month, the crew on a Frontier flight to Miami restrained an irate male passenger with tape after a violent altercation.

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American has been part of two recent duct tape-based stories. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

It is not clear what United’s “designated items” for de-escalating such violent situations are. In any case, it is clear that it doesn’t wish to be the subject of stories like these. Indeed, this seems to always have been the case. A United spokesperson told Simple Flying:

These are not new safety policies. This reference was in a weekly memo we distribute to our inflight crews that includes pertinent information like important notices and reminders about standard safety policies.”

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A rare pre-pandemic occurrence

So, as we can see, incidents of abusive passengers being physically restrained have certainly been on the rise in recent months. However, this doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, Simple Flying reported on just such an incident in December 2019, several months before the health crisis hit aviation.

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S7 Airlines is the biggest domestic carrier in Russia. Photo: Getty Images

This took place in December 2019, onboard a domestic flight operated by Russian carrier and oneworld member S7 Airlines. This saw a drunk male passenger in his 50s aggressively attempt to enter the cockpit of the green-liveried Airbus A320.

Such behavior could potentially pose a threat to the plane and its occupants. Therefore, with the help of a group of passengers, cabin crew maneuvered the thrashing man into a vacant seat, where they restrained him using plastic tape normally used to cover food. His abusive behavior continued on the ground, where he attempted to attack police officers.

What do you make of United’s policy regarding the use of duct tape? Have you ever been on a flight where someone has been restrained like this? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.