Airlines staff learning martial arts to fight threats

Public transport across Russia is reassessing its security measures following the horrendous terrorist attack on the St Petersberg Metro earlier this week which saw 14 people killed and many more injured following a suicide bombing.

For one airline, that has meant training their staff to be able to kick some terrorist ass, and use martial arts defend themselves and their passengers.

Russian Airlines Pobeda Airlines Flight
Pobeda Airlines Flight

Regular assaults on staff

Low-cost carrier Pobeda Airlines, which is part of the Aeroflot group, is the airline in question. They took the decision last month following the latest of a series of attacks on staff members.

After missing his flight at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport got angry and began to lash out wildly at a member of the airline’s staff. He entered the staff member’s office and began to throw punches at him after he refused to refund his money.

But the attack was just the latest in a long line of incidents which have affected the morale of the airline’s staff.

In September, a group of travellers attacked a staff member and, despite the incident being videoed, they are yet to be brought to justice. And there was another incident when 10 people who were late for their flight to Krasnodar broke into the airline’s office and demanded the flight be delayed so they could board.

When staff explained this wasn’t possible they trashed the office, assaulted staff, and made death threats. Speaking in the Russian newspaper Vedomosti [in Russian], the airline’s chief executive Andrey Kalmykov explained that they had been considering hiring private security guards to protect staff, but such an expenditure would have required an increase in ticket prices.

“We’ve found a better option,” he explained. “We will train our employees in sambo and judo. This will mean we do not have to raise ticket prices.”

Russian Airlines Andrey Kalmykov
Andrey Kalmykov - CEO of Pobeda Airlines


Whilst most readers will be familiar with judo, many may not have previously come across Sambo, which is a Russian martial art.

Sambo is an acronym of ‘samozashchita bez oruzhiya’, which translates into English as “self-defense without weapons.”

It was developed as recently as the 1920’s by the Soviet Union’s Red Army to enhance their troop’s hand-to-hand combat skills. It was intended to bring together the most effective moves and techniques from various different martial arts into a single form. It includes a wide variety of different moves including strikes, throws, chokes, joint locks, and ground fighting.

sambo Russian Airlines
Airborne soldiers demonstrate mastery of martial arts

Kung-Fu stewardesses in Hong Kong Airlines

Pobeda Airlines are not the first airline to train their staff in martial arts in order to be able to protect themselves. Back in 2011, Hong Kong Airlines made Kung Fu classes compulsory for all staff members to equip them to deal with unruly passengers.

And whilst this might conjure up imagines of female flight attendants taking down groups of threatening yobs, the attributes the staff gained have helped them in a variety of different ways.

“One of the passengers was sick but he was probably drunk and felt unwell, “explained Hong Kong Airlines deputy general manager of corporate communications, Eva Chan.

“The crew member attended to him and she realized her fitness was helping her especially because the guy was quite heavy… Because of the training, she could handle it quite easily.”

Hong Kong Airlines Russian Airlines
Hong Kong Airlines


Whilst many have welcomed the move to train up airline staff as a welcome investment in useful staff training, others have suggested that the airlines are actually neglecting their duty to protect staff instead leaving them to look after themselves in dangerous situations.

The argument goes that rather than dealing with underlying issues which are upsetting passengers in the first place, they are merely putting staff in harm’s way to defend the existing problems.

Questions have also been asked about what happens if staff using their new martial arts skills actually hurt a passenger, either deliberately or accidently, in using their new talent.

There are certainly some valid questions for carriers such as Pobeda Airlines and Hong Kong Airlines to answer.

But speaking for myself, I know I will feel much more at ease on a flight if I know my flight attendant doesn’t just know how to deliver a safety demonstration and serve up my meal, but if it all kicks off, she will have no trouble stepping in to break up a fight as well. Now that really would be good in-flight service!

Read more like this