Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) administrator Steve Dickson has implored airport police to arrest more unruly airline passengers as it becomes increasingly apparent that despite a huge surge in the number of disruptive behavior, the vast majority of unruly passengers don’t ever face any form of criminal charge for actions that include assaulting and threatening flight attendants.
The FAA has the power to slap unruly passengers with a civil penalty of as much as $37,000 but the agency doesn’t have the authority to bring criminal proceedings meaning that despite a highly publicized ‘zero tolerance’ campaign, in many cases the FAA is reliant on local police departments.
“As the number of passengers traveling has increased, so has the number of unruly and unsafe behavior incidents on planes and in airports,” wrote Dickson in a letter to airport managers across the United States on Tuesday.
“The FAA adopted a Zero-Tolerance policy toward this behavior on airplanes earlier this year, and we are taking the strongest possible action within our legal authority. But we need your help,” the letter continues.
“Every week, we see situations in which law enforcement was asked to meet an aircraft at the gate following an unruly passenger incident. In some cases, flight attendants have reported being physically assaulted,”
“Nevertheless, many of these passengers were interviewed by local police and released without criminal charges of any kind. When this occurs, we miss a key opportunity to hold unruly passengers accountable for their unacceptable and dangerous behaviour”.
The FAA has received at least 3,715 unruly passenger reports since the start of 2021 ut has only initiated investigations in 628 cases and brought enforcement action in 99 cases. The number of criminal charges are even fewer with some experts suspecting that confusion over jurisdiction is the main cause that local law enforcement fail to get involved.
Airlines have urged the Justice Department to send a tough message to unruly passengers by bringing federal charges and pushing for offenders to pay with jail time.
The industry argues that existing laws could easily stamp out unruly passenger incidents if they were applied properly. The most commonly used federal crime for unruly passengers is for “assaulting, threatening, intimidating or otherwise interfering with a crewmember”.
Fearing that alcohol is driving the spike in unruly passenger incidents, Dickson also urged airports to cut down on ‘to go’ alcohol options from airport concessions. Although it’s illegal for passengers to consume their own alcohol on a plane, many are becoming “inebriated during the boarding process” and then continuing to drink on the plane.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.