The rate at which airlines are reporting unruly passenger incidents to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has dropped sharply since the agency started to slap misbehaving passengers with $35,000 civil penalties. The FAA has already handed out more than $1 million in fines since the start of 2021 as part of a zero-tolerance campaign against unruly passengers.
“Our work is having an impact and the trend is moving in the right direction,” commented FAA Administrator Steve Dickson ahead of a transportation house committee hearing on Thursday in which lawmakers are set to examine the “alarming” increase in disruptive and unruly airline passengers.
“This remains a serious safety threat, and one incident is one too many,” Dickson continued. “The FAA will continue its Zero Tolerance policy, keep its public awareness campaign going, and keep pushing and partnering with everyone in the aviation system to do more.”
The agency dragged airline representatives into a meeting earlier this week demanding that carrier’s do more to turn the tide on unruly passenger incidents. Airlines and their trade body’s have been given just one week to come up with concrete measures to address the issue.
The FAA said it had “asked the airlines to commit to take more action” against sometimes violent inflight incidents which have involved flight attendants being threatened and assaulted. In one highly publicized incident, a Southwest Airlines flight attendants lost two teeth after being allegedly repeatedly punched by a passenger.
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.
On Thursday, Dickson said he appreciated the “tremendous work of all our partners in the airline, airport, labor, and law enforcement communities.”
According to the latest FAA figures, unruly passenger incidents are occurring approximately six times per every 10,000 flights. That’s down by around 50 per cent compared to early 2021 but still double the rate as in late 2020.
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) fears that if unruly passenger numbers continue at their current rate, the number of reported incidents in 2021 could eclipse the number reported in the entire history of commercial aviation.
Sara Nelson, president of AFA is expected to tell Thursday’s hearing that there is much more that both airlines and government can do to stamp out unruly passenger incidents. “The disruptions in the cabin and failure to comply with crew instruction are a threat to the safety of flight,” the union said ahead of the hearing.
“The safety of every passenger and crewmember onboard is in jeopardy when our duties are interrupted or needless distractions arise.”
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.