The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) convened a meeting of top U.S. airlines and industry representatives on Tuesday to tell them to do more to fight back against an ugly rise in unruly passenger incidents that have seriously marred the return in demand for air travel.
In a more diplomatic statement released by the FAA following the meeting, the aviation regulator said it had “asked the airlines to commit to take more action” against unruly passengers.
Airlines have been given just one week to notify the FAA of what “additional steps” they will take to address the surge in bad passenger behavior. Those steps must then be implemented within the next month with the hope of curbing unruly passenger incidents in a similar timeframe.
The meeting, convened at the behest of top FAA officials, included trade group Airlines 4 America which represents the likes of American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines. The body also represents jetBlue, Southwest and Hawaiian Airlines.
Also present was the Regional Airline Association and the National Air Carrier Association, as well as representatives from some airlines.
Since the start of the year, the FAA has received 4,386 unruly passenger reports, of which 789 investigations have been initiated. So far, the FAA has taken enforcement action in just 162 cases but with a zero-tolerance policy in effect, the agency has already slapped disruptive passengers with more than $1 million in civil penalties.
The vast majority of unruly passenger incidents (72 per cent) are connected with face mask violations. Alcohol and mental health issues have also contributed to the dramatic and offputting rise in sometimes violent onboard incidents.
American Airlines and Southwest have already committed to delaying the return on onboard alcohol service in an attempt to reduce the risk of an incident at 38,000 feet but the Southwest flight attendants union has urged the airline to go further.
“Give Flight Attendants the benefit of the doubt when investigating air rage incidents. Stand by us, trust our word, and collaborate with other carriers to show collective force,” the TWU Local 556 union told Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly in an open letter last month.
The union would like Southwest to give flight attendants paid leave to attend self-defense classes organized by the TSA from crew members.
Last month, FAA administrator Steve Dickson implored airport police departments to arrest more unruly airline passengers after it became apparent that many unruly passengers weren’t being charged criminally because of confusion over jurisdiction. Dickson also asked airports to ban ‘to go’ alcohol options in a drive to reduce levels of drunkenness in U.S. airports.
On Tuesday, Dickson acknowledged the meeting with U.S. airlines saying: ‘Let me be clear: Aviation safety is a collaborative effort”.
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.