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Airline groups ask DOJ for ‘full and public prosecution’ of unruly passengers

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Washington — A coalition of 10 aviation industry groups led by Airlines for America, a trade association of U.S. passenger and cargo carriers, is requesting that the Department of Justice “commit to the full and public prosecution of onboard acts of violence” by passengers against airline employees.

In a letter dated June 21 and sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland, the group makes clear its “heightened concern regarding the substantial increase in and growing escalation of passengers’ unruly and disruptive behavior onboard aircraft, particularly toward crew members,” calling the incidents “a safety and security threat to our passengers and employees.”

According to a June 22 agency press release, since Jan. 1, the Federal Aviation Administration has fielded around 3,100 reports of unruly passenger behavior, with approximately 2,350 of the incidents involving passengers’ refusal to comply with the federal mask mandate amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

FAA maintains a “zero-tolerance policy for unruly and dangerous behavior by passengers,” the agency says in the release, adding that “federal law prohibits interfering with aircraft crew or physically assaulting or threatening to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft.”

Airline passengers in violation are subject to civil penalties. From May 24 to June 22, FAA has proposed 17 penalties ranging from $7,500 to $22,000. Fines can extend up to $35,000.

In a separate letter – also sent June 21 – to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, Airlines for America President and CEO Nick Calio commends the agency’s zero-tolerance policy as well as requests that FAA boost public awareness of the civil penalties and refer “abhorrent cases” of unruly behavior to DOJ.

 

In a statement to Safety+Health, FAA indicates that the policy “remains fully in place, and we will continue to work with local law enforcement and the DOJ to make it clear that unsafe and unruly behavior simply does not fly.”

In conjunction with the January announcement of the policy, Dickson amplified FAA’s stance against unruly behavior in a video message.

“This dangerous behavior can distract, disrupt and threaten crew members’ safety functions,” Dickson says. “And as a former airline captain, it’s extremely concerning to me, and I know it’s equally concerning to the airline cockpit and cabin crews whose primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of all passengers.”

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