FAA says it’s cracking down on violent, unruly passengers

Jan 13, 2021

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Unruly passengers have been put on notice.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday it would take a tougher stance against unruly and violent passengers on U.S. flights.

The agency said it was making the move following “a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior.”

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“These incidents have stemmed both from passengers’ refusals to wear masks and from recent violence at the U.S. Capitol,” the agency added in a statement.

The change in tone comes as airline crews have found themselves on the frontlines, both in enforcing mask policies and in keeping the peace amid a volatile political climate.

Mask-wearing has been an ongoing issue for crews. But, more recently, there have been a number of reports detailing the raucous behavior of passengers on several flights carrying Trump supporters to and from a Jan. 6 rally that ultimately led to violence at the U.S. Capitol.

Under a new policy that will begin March 30, the FAA will no longer warn passengers involved in inflight incidents. Instead, the agency will move directly toward “legal enforcement action” against “any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crew members.”

More: No-fly lists, security crackdown: Chaos in DC leads to big changes in travel

“Flying is the safest mode of transportation and I signed this order to keep it that way,” FAA Administrator Dickson said.

Typically, the FAA and other government regulators announce major changes far in advance of implementation, offering the public time to comment on the rule changes. But while March 30 may seem far off, the timeline is relatively short for such a new mandate.

The new policy is likely to be welcome by airline crews, who are often left to sort out such conflicts when they arise inflight.

Unruly passengers have long been a problem, with alcohol frequently cited as a cause. But the past year has added mask-wearing and — now — politics to the mix.

In the absence of a federal policy, airlines have been left to institute their own rules for wearing masks on their flights. While most airline policies are now consistent, some passengers have purposefully tested the policies while traveling. Politics emerged as a new flashpoint earlier this month, when conflicts on several Washington flights showed tense moments on planes and went viral on social media.

The incidents were enough to prompt the chief of nation’s largest flight attendants union to speak out.

“It’s one thing to have one or two bad actors on a plane… [but] in the past two, three days it’s a whole different thing,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said to Skift on Monday after numerous reports of inflight incidents. “They’ve taken over the entire tone on the plane. How do you deal with that at 30,000 feet?”

Featured photo Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

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