Yesterday the FAA revealed that they would be sending 80 unruly passenger cases to the FBI for prosecution. This follows the dramatic rise in unruly-passenger incidents in the last two years.

A “disturbing” increase in violent behaviour

The FAA is the USA’s Federal Aviation Administration and is responsible for regulating all aspects of civil aviation. Since the pandemic, they have reported a “disturbing” increase in passenger incidents, mostly related to mask-wearing policy. In 2021, the FAA reported 5,981 incidents of unruly-passenger behaviour, of which 4,290 were mask related.

An officer from the Airport District Police of Miami International Airport gestures toward passenger Dontavious Jackson
Rates of passenger incidents showed a dramatic spike in 2021 | © Chandan Khanna / Getty images

Many such incidents have gone viral or made news headlines. In one disturbing scene, a passenger aboard a Southwest Airlines flight was caught on camera punching a flight attendant following a dispute over mask policy. The flight attendant lost two teeth, and the passenger was arrested and charged with felony battery.

 

Zero tolerance from the FAA

In response to such incidents, the airline imposed a zero-tolerance policy on unruly-passenger behaviour in January of last year. Passengers can now face fines of up to $37,000 per violation. The FAA’s zero-tolerance campaign featured social media memes followed by a public education campaign to inform the public of the potential consequences of disrupting a flight.

FAA punching flight attendant truck meme
One of the memes from the FAA’s zero tolerance campaign | © FAA

Although the FAA can impose heavy fines on passengers, it cannot prosecute criminal cases. This year there have been 123 investigations initiated, and 80 cases have been referred to the FBI for criminal review. In 2021 there were 1,110 investigations initiated, up from 183 in 2020. The FAA has said the rate of incidents has dropped by half since their peak early last year but have said: “there remains more to do.”

 

Could a no-fly list be the solution?

Delta Airlines CEO, Ed Bastian wrote a letter to US attorney general Merrick Garland earlier this month to ask that a US-wide no-fly list be implemented to prevent unruly passengers from flying. Delta airlines maintains its own no-fly list with more than 1900 names. The suggestion has received criticism from some Republican senators who say the mandate would equate unruly passengers to terrorists.

What are your thoughts on the rise in passenger incidents? Do you think a no-fly list would solve the problem? Let us know your insights in the comments below!

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