FAA Pledges Crackdown on Unruly Airline Passengers as Travel Season Takes Off

FAA Pledges Crackdown on Unruly Airline Passengers as Travel Season Takes Off
A Delta plane sits at the International Terminal at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in March 2020. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Incidents of quarrelsome passengers on flights is on the rise as summer travel begins, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on June 12, while warning that the agency can pursue legal action against these individuals.

The FAA said there have been 915 cases of unruly passengers, from Jan. 1 to June 9, “including 106 cases of passenger disturbances due to intoxication.”

“Travelers will pay for misbehaving. The FAA implemented a Zero-Tolerance Policy on Jan. 13, 2021, after seeing a disturbing increase in cases, issuing fines instead of warning letters or counseling.”

“The FAA pursues legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crewmembers, and can propose civil penalties up to $37,000 per violation,” the agency said in a press release.

The number of unruly passenger reports received by the FAA jumped by 492 percent in 2021, rising from 1,009 in 2020 to 5,973 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This figure then dropped by 59 percent in 2022.

In 2023, there were 2,075 reports, a 15 percent decline. The FAA initiated 512 investigations on these cases last year and 402 enforcement actions. The agency levied $7.5 million in fines.

Incidents of passengers disrupting flights with violent or threatening behavior are an “ongoing problem,” the FAA noted. Airlines have seen a “rapid growth” in these incidents since 2021.

The FAA’s “Zero Tolerance” policy, together with its public awareness campaign, helped bring down the unruly incident rate by over 60 percent, the agency claims, and in 2022, the policy was made permanent.

“Behaving dangerously on a plane will cost you; that’s a promise,” Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said at the time.

“Unsafe behavior simply does not fly and keeping our Zero Tolerance policy will help us continue making progress to prevent and punish this behavior.”

Seeking FBI Intervention

In August 2023, the FAA revealed it had referred 22 unruly passenger cases to the FBI for prosecution review, bringing the number of these incidents to 39 for the first half of last year. Since late 2021, the agency has referred over 270 of the “most serious cases” to the FBI.

In December 2021, a passenger was referred for making terrorist threats, assaulting a flight attendant, and smoking on the aircraft. One referral from July 2022 related to an individual accused of physically/sexually assaulting an unaccompanied minor.

In January 2023, there were two cases of sexual assaults on female passengers. In April 2023, one person was referred for yelling, cursing, and throwing objects at passengers. This individual had to be restrained in cuffs.

“Unruly behavior poses serious safety concerns for passengers and crew alike, which is why we are addressing this issue aggressively,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

“If you act out on an airplane, you can face criminal prosecution and fines up to $37,000 per violation.”

A major case of FAA fining unruly passengers took place in April 2022 when the agency proposed imposing fines of $81,950 and $77,272 on two individuals. These were the “largest-ever fines” proposed by the agency.

The $81,950 fine related to a passenger on a July 7, 2021, flight. The person allegedly threatened to hurt a flight attendant who offered to help the individual after she fell into the aisle. The passenger attempted to open the cabin door and had to be eventually restrained.

The $77,272 fine was charged for an incident from July 16, 2021, when a passenger allegedly attempted to hug and kiss another person next to her. She also bit another passenger several times. The individual was also restrained.

“Federal law prohibits interfering with aircraft crew or physically assaulting or threatening to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft. Passengers are subject to civil penalties for such misconduct, which can threaten the safety of the flight by disrupting or distracting cabin crew from their safety duties” the FAA stated.

From The Epoch Times