Skip to content

US Justice Department cracking down on unruly air passengers

Nov. 25, 2021
4 min read
Attorney General Merrick Garland listens during a news conference over ransomware cyberattacks, at the Department of Justice, in Washington, DC on November 8, 2021.
US Justice Department cracking down on unruly air passengers
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

The U.S. Justice Department is cracking down on unruly airline passengers as attacks on flight attendants and other airline workers have intensified.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced Wednesday, Nov. 24, that he's directed staff at the Department of Justice to prioritize the prosecution of federal crimes committed on planes and at airports.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter

Sign up for our daily newsletter

That should give law enforcement more power and resources to investigate and prosecute crimes committed in the air.

The union for flight attendants - the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) - surveyed its members in September and found that 85% of flight attendants reported they have dealt with unruly passengers.

A fifth of those surveyed said they’ve encountered physical violence on aircraft.

Related: 85% of flight attendants say they’ve dealt with unruly passengers this year

In a statement issued during the busy Thanksgiving travel week, Attorney General Garland wrote:

“Passengers who assault, intimidate or threaten violence against flight crews and flight attendants do more than harm those employees; they prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel. Similarly, when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the close confines of a commercial aircraft, the conduct endangers everyone aboard.”

Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research, told TPG, "It's about time that action is taken against these criminals."

JohnnyJet founder and editor-in-chief, John E. DiScala, (aka Johnny Jet), had a similar take telling TPG, “It’s about time. In addition, they need to create an airline no-fly list, so if a 'turkey' causes problems on one airline, they can’t book a return ticket on another.”

Related: FAA cracking down on unruly passengers

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as of Nov. 23, 2021, there have been more than 5,300 incidents of unruly passengers, including more than 3,850 related to mask-wearing. The FAA has a zero-tolerance policy on bad behavior and can impose fines up to $37,000 per incident. The FAA has also referred at least 37 cases to the FBI for further investigation.

Harteveldt said, "There's no excuse for anyone to verbally or physically assault anyone on a plane, whether it's another passenger or crew member. Nor is there a reason for anyone to be verbally or physically abuse to people working at airports."

Brian Sumers is editor-at-large for travel site Skift. He told TPG, "It’s nice to see the government taking air rage seriously. Airline front-line workers have been complaining that more passengers than ever are failing to follow federal regulations. People drinking alcohol has been a major problem."

But Sumers also told me he's worried the crackdown won't be enough, "I wonder if this will be much of a deterrent. Most air rage is not planned in advance. People drink too much, or they’re having a bad day, or they’re stressed, and they lose it. When they fight with flight attendants, they aren’t thinking about prosecution. That’s only something that happens after the fact. Ideally, the industry and regulators will find a way to stop air rage before it starts."

Related: Air rage crisis: Congress gets an earful on unruly flyer incidents aboard US flights

Henry Harteveldt suggested the Justice Department taking action against unruly passengers might lead other passengers to think twice before they become abusive to airline workers in the future.

"I think we have reached the point where airlines would be justified to have passengers acknowledge they will adhere to a “code of conduct” as part of the check-in process," Harteveldt continued.

Harteveldt also told TPG:

"It's fair to say that none of us like to wear masks on planes, but it's now a federal requirement that we do so, and airlines are required to enforce that. It's clear some passengers feel that rather than accept this requirement, they feel entitled to dispute it. Perhaps they are frustrated by the aspects of air travel and wearing masks is the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back that leads to these outbursts. It's not acceptable, and as a passenger, you have two choices: comply with the regulations, whether it's fastening your seatbelt or wearing a mask, or find another way to get from point A to point B."
Featured image by Attorney General Merrick Garland listens during a news conference over ransomware cyberattacks, at the Department of Justice, in Washington, DC on November 8, 2021. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
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.

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases