Who would have imagined that being a flight attendant would be such a dangerous job?

According to a survey of nearly 5,000 flight attendants, 17% said they have experienced a physical incident involving passengers this year, as reported by The Associated Press and others. Further, approximately 85% of those surveyed have had at least one incident involving an unruly passenger.

Behind most of the incidents are federal rules that mandate face masks. Alcohol also is a factor.

Last week, leaders from the aviation industry testified before Congress about the rise of in-air incidents. Although the hearing came after this piece was written, the goal was to find new ideas to reduce violence on U.S. airlines.

Examples aren’t hard to find, since many incidents are documented by passengers with cellphones. The startling images include full-on fisticuffs, sometimes with other passengers and often with airline staff. Flight attendants have been punched and spat upon. In one incident, a flight attendant lost two teeth; the attacker was charged with felony battery.

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In another incident this year, a man was restrained in his seat with duct tape after he inappropriately touched two flight attendants, came out of a bathroom shirtless and punched an attendant in the face.

Many times, bystanders — including children — are inadvertently sucked into the melee due to the small spaces found in most U.S. planes.

What’s been done so far?

  • In January, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order that, according to the FAA, directs the agency to “take strong action against any passenger who disrupts or threatens the safety of a flight, with penalties ranging from fines to jail time.”
  • In February, the FAA implemented an increased effort with heavy fines and public-service announcements. In a report earlier this week by CBS, the rate of unruly incidents decreased and continued a months-long downward trend after the fines were announced. Dickson told CBS that fines have surpassed $1 million, but “there is still a lot of work to be done.”
  • Some airlines are cutting alcohol sales during flights.

Hopefully, the aviation meeting this week in Washington will result in further work done to bring even more penalties for those who disrupt flights and pose a danger to passengers and airline crews.

Adding more air marshals — the undercover lawmen of the skies — probably will not be an option, since it would require hundreds, perhaps thousands, more agents on staff, due to the sheer volume of flights each day in the U.S.

It’s simply going to take large fines and more jail time for convicted offenders. And yes, alcohol sales should be strictly reduced or outright discontinued until the trend subsides.

Whatever happened to the so-called “friendly skies” once touted in a certain airline’s commercials?

Apparently, those days are gone as passenger frustration grows and as political disagreements spill ever more into everyday life. At risk are the passengers flying in those planes and, especially, the airline employees who suddenly are asked to play the role of barroom bouncer on what should be a seamless and — at least in the past — enjoyable process.

Even stiffer fines and penalties must be enacted to keep the peace in U.S. skies.

This Midwest Opinion editorial is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Grand Forks Herald.