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The FAA's 'zero-tolerance' unruly passenger policy is here to stay

April 20, 2022
3 min read
The FAA's 'zero-tolerance' unruly passenger policy is here to stay
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The mask mandate might be gone (at least for now), but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will continue its zero-tolerance enforcement policy on unruly passengers.

That policy was first implemented in January 2021 in response to an uptick in violent incidents on aircraft. It involves the agency skipping warning letters and counseling after a violent incident — and heading straight to fines. As part of the policy, those fined by the FAA will also lose their enrollment in TSA PreCheck.

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The FAA has proposed over $2 million in fines since the beginning of this year. It recently proposed its two largest-ever fines for two separate incidents last July.

“Behaving dangerously on a plane will cost you; that’s a promise,” acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a statement. “Unsafe behavior simply does not fly and keeping our zero tolerance policy will help us continue making progress to prevent and punish this behavior.”

The FAA credits the policy with a 60% reduction in violent onboard incidents. It says that 80 incidents have been referred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for criminal review and possible prosecution.

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The agency's announcement comes after mask mandates were lifted following a ruling by a federal judge on Monday.

Many flight attendants celebrated the end of the mandates, which they felt helped fuel a spike in violent incidents onboard aircraft.

"Flight attendants not only experienced this pandemic uniquely but we were forced to endure it for hours on end during flights and juggle the politics of who we had to police to comply," a flight attendant for a major U.S. carrier told TPG after the mandated had ended.

More: Punch a flight attendant? Lose TSA PreCheck

Major flight attendant unions, while supportive of the FAA's "zero-tolerance" policy, have called for more, and have thrown their support behind the Protection from Abusive Passengers Act, which would create a federal “no-fly” list for unruly passengers. It's a step that advocates have called overdue.

"More needs to be done," Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said in a statement earlier this month. "Right now, a passenger can be fined or convicted, and may be banned on an individual airline – but that does not prevent this violent offender from flying another airline."

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.