The FAA is getting tougher with unruly airline passengers, following what it reports as a “disturbing increase” in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behaviour. These recent incidents have stemmed both from passengers’ refusals to wear face masks in the cabin, and from recent violence at the US Capitol. In response the FAA’s Administrator, Steve Dickson, has signed an order directing a stricter legal enforcement policy against unruly passengers.
“Flying is the safest mode of transportation and I signed this order to keep it that way,” stated Dickson.
Historically, the agency has addressed unruly passenger incidents using a variety of methods ranging from warnings and counselling, to civil penalties. Effective immediately, however, the FAA will not address these cases with warnings or counselling. Instead, the agency will pursue legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates or interferes with airline crew members. This policy will be in effect through 30 March, 2021.
Passengers who interfere with, physically assault, or threaten to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft face stiff penalties, including fines of up to US$35,000 and imprisonment. This tough line is necessary as such dangerous behaviour can distract, disrupt, and threaten crew members’ safety functions, says the FAA.
The FAA has initiated more than 1,300 enforcement actions against unruly passengers during the past 10 years, including recent cases for allegedly interfering with and assaulting flight attendants who instructed them to wear masks. One example is a proposed civil penalty of US$15,000 and $7,500, respectively, against two airline passengers for allegedly interfering with and assaulting flight attendants who instructed them to wear face coverings
While the FAA does not have regulatory authority over aviation security or no-fly lists, the agency works closely with federal law enforcement and national security partners on any reported security threats that may impact aviation safety.