Punch a flight attendant? Lose TSA PreCheck

Dec 21, 2021

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Airline passengers who break rules, get in fights and assault flight attendants will face a new consequence, according to the TSA: loss of access to the PreCheck program.

The FAA will share names and other information about passengers who it has fined for unruly behavior with the TSA, the security agency said on Tuesday. This may remove said individuals from the trusted traveler program.

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TSA PreCheck allows eligible participants who are considered “low-risk” to undergo a less-invasive security screening process at U.S. airports. PreCheck members can typically leave laptops and liquids in carry-on bags, wear shoes and light jackets through the checkpoint and pass through a metal detector rather than a full-body scanner.

“This partnership with FAA will help ensure the safety and security of all passengers and hold those who violate federal regulations accountable for their actions,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement.

The incidence of unruly passengers on flights has surged in 2021, with 5,664 reported cases, according to the FAA, easily the highest ever reported. The FAA has not tracked the number of reports in previous years because the number was typically so small, a spokesperson said. Of those cases, 315 have seen enforcement action of the type which would lead to a referral to the TSA under the new partnership, while 1,030 investigations have been opened.

It was not immediately clear how many unruly passengers have been TSA PreCheck participants.

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

In 2019, just 146 investigations were initiated, while 183 were started in 2020.

“If you act out of line, you will wait in line,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson added in the statement. “Our partnership aims to promote safe and responsible passenger behavior. One unruly incident is one too many.”

Many of the onboard incidents have been in relation to the federal mask mandate, with passengers refusing crewmember instructions to wear the face coverings, while others have involved alcohol.

A meme posted to social media by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2021 in response to the surge in unruly passenger incidents. (Image courtesy of FAA/Facebook.)

While the overall number of incidents has been low — just 13 incidents per 10,000 flights at the height of the problem in mid-January to February of this year, about 85% of flight attendants in a recent survey said they had encountered disruptive passenger behavior on flights in 2021, and nearly 1 in 5 said they had either witnessed or been subject to violence.

“Clear consequences for bad actors is critical if we’re going to drop the record-breaking number of disruptive passenger events,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, in a tweet. “Coordination is key — almost as important as action.”

Related: Reminder: You can’t drink your own booze on an airplane

Although airlines have kept track of unruly passengers on their individual flights, in some cases prohibiting them from flying with the carrier again, Nelson has called for a shared list of banned passengers.

The FAA also referred 37 cases to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation last month.

The recent fines have been highly publicized by the FAA, implemented under a zero-tolerance policy that the agency put in place in January following numerous disruptive incidents on flights surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building.

More than $1 million in fines have been issued by the Administration.

Featured photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy. 

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