Hoosier tackles aviation mental health as attacks rise

INDIANAPOLIS — As the world navigates a once-in-a-century pandemic, hundreds of flight attendants faced new turmoil.

“A lot of us don’t feel comfortable coming to work anymore,” said Nastassja Lewis, founder and CEO of th|AIR|apia. “A lot of us quit because we don’t feel safe because you never know, ‘Will it be me today?’

Lewis has spent nearly 10 years walking to work through corridors, such as the one at Indianapolis International Airport (IND). But it wasn’t until 2020 that missing a flight didn’t seem so bad.

“When passengers see us, they see us in our beautiful uniforms, just enjoying all these different destinations, but now they’re seeing our noses broken, teeth knocked out of our mouths because of anger,” he said. .

Like many wrestling goers, the Ball State University alum carries a heavy load: unruly passengers. Those travelers impact every traveler, from grounded flights to delays and cancellations. On Sunday, February 20, 2022, a United Airlines flight had to return to its gate at the IND because a man refused to wear a mask. He was later arrested and charged with trespassing and posing as an officer, after authorities said he claimed to be a hired federal investigator.

For 25 years, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has never seen an increase in violations and investigations like it has during the pandemic. FOX59 found that the agency used tax dollars to launch nearly 200 investigations in 2020; by 2021, that increased to almost 1,100 investigations. In the same year, nearly 6,000 reports of unruly passengers were filed, about 72 percent of them for masks.

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“We need more action from our airlines and the federal government to ensure flight attendants feel safe in the system and know that if something happens on board, someone will cover for them,” said Taylor Garland, spokeswoman for the Flight Attendants Association. -CWA (AFA-CWA).

The FAA did not interview FOX59 on camera, but did issue statements to several of our questions, including this one:

“If we determine that a passenger may have violated a federal law or regulation, we will begin an investigation. If the investigation shows that a violation occurred, we take enforcement action.”

“Enforcement. We can’t pay too much lip service,” Lewis said, when asked about industry criticism of the FAA’s prosecutions and punishments of violators of rules. “And I feel like a lot of that has been lips out because we see these cases happen and they just go away, what happens after that?

FOX59 asked that of the Department of Justice (DOJ), which prosecutes passengers who violate FAA rules. After my repeated requests, the DOJ confirmed that it processed only 21 cases in the last fiscal year.
However, the FAA filed nearly 1,100 investigations in 2021. The Justice Department was unable to provide immediate data on the number of convictions, so FOX59 checked the department’s cases and press releases. We found only one sentence in 2021, a 6-month prison sentence for an assault case involving 2 flight attendants in 2019. We couldn’t find any other sentences for last year.

Both Lewis and Garland say that’s the problem. Lewis explains that the lack of consequences for unruly travelers contributes to poor mental health in aviation.

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“We always say that if these seats could talk, there would be a lot of tears, just a lot of deep conversations that have happened in those folding seats,” the mental health advocate said.

The pandemic pushed Hoosier to do something for his peers. Mental health advocate founded th|AIR|apia, a non-profit organization dedicated to mental health in aviation. In just a few months, the Hoosier built on a long-standing vision and connected with mental health leaders to launch a 24/7 crisis text line for flight attendants.

The nonprofit reports from Christmas week through the end of January saw more than 2,000 text messages.

“Just this week we received a text message that said: a flight attendant who said: ‘I’m having suicidal thoughts’Louis said.

— Nastassja Lewis, Founder and CEO of th|AIR|apy

Unfortunately, suicides are more common in the aviation industry compared to many others. Many flight crews say the stress of the pandemic and fear of attacks amplify the reality of the industry.

That’s why Lewis and hundreds of others hope passengers know: “We’re not against you! We want everyone to arrive safely. We want to protect humanity and make sure we’re all alive at the end of this.”

If you are having suicidal thoughts, help and resources are available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can be reached at 800-273-8255. Indiana also has a crisis text line: text IN to 741741.


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