For decades United Airlines had the famous slogan “Fly the friendly skies.”

Today flying has too often been anything but friendly as a growing number of passengers have been hurling insults at flight attendants and even physically assaulting flight crews and airport security officials.

It’s a problem federal officials need to get on top of quickly.

The Federal Aviation Administration reported last week that it has received approximately 3,100 reports of unruly passenger behavior since the start of the year. The Transportation Security Administration has tallied at least 69 physical assaults against its security staff since the pandemic’s early days.

That compares to a relative handful of cases the agencies normally saw in previous years.

A majority of the incidents involve passengers who refused to obey the federal requirement to wear a face mask.

Things have gotten so bad that the airlines and unions for flight attendants and pilots sent a letter to the U.S. Justice Department urging “that more be done to deter egregious behavior.”

Groups representing flight attendants call the situation in the skies “out of control,” and note that even when incidents don’t rise to physical altercations, the name-calling and disrespect being aimed at attendants is wearing them down.

Airline executives say that while troubling, cases of unruly passengers are still relatively low compared to the number of passengers that fly. Airport screenings have topped 2 million per day recently. But while parsing relative risk ratios, those executives must realize that increasing threats and violence on flights and the related publicity is detrimental to their businesses. And they have an obligation to do what they can to protect the physical and mental well being of their crews.

While unruly passenger behavior or interfering with flight attendant duties is against federal law and the FAA has leveled heavy fines, the actions haven’t been enough to deter out of control passengers.

The Justice Department, TSA, FAA and Homeland Security all need to look at ways to step up enforcement and prosecutions to deter the rowdiness.

But there is also a need for passengers to follow the rules whether they agree with them or not. There has been a steadily growing sense of entitlement and its correlated anger among more Americans.

That not only causes problems in the air but throughout society.

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