The FAA, in the wake of recent unruly behavior on aircraft and mob violence threatening cities all around the country, is ordering airlines to enforce stricter codes of demeanor to stave further public incidents.
The FAA has seen a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior. These incidents have stemmed both from passengers’ refusals to wear masks and from recent violence at the US Capitol.
“Flying is the safest mode of transportation and I signed this order to keep it that way,” said Stephen Dickson, the agency’s administrator.
Historically, the agency has addressed unruly-passenger incidents using a variety of methods ranging from warnings and counseling to civil penalties. Effective immediately, however, the FAA will not address these cases with warnings or counseling. 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 March 30.
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 $35,000 and imprisonment. This dangerous behavior can distract, disrupt, and threaten crewmembers’ safety functions.
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.
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.
As of mid-January, although many of the agitators who flew to Washington for the Jan. 6 Capitol protests were not placed on such lists once identified, several protestors were posting complaints on social media about having been kicked off their flights. However, follow-ups later determined that those boarding bans occurred due to the passengers’ refusals for not wearing a mask.
Delta has refused boarding to more than 900 people so far, according CEO Ed Bastian on a recent financial analysts call. Those numbers were bolstered by members of the unruly mob on Jan. 6 who harassed GOP Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah) and Lindsey Graham (SC) at Reagan National Airport, according to reports by Reuters.
Similarly, United has banned some 615 maskless passengers from flights – so far more than 60 of them heading to or from the Capitol melee. Alaska Air banned 14 passengers from boarding a carrier on a flight from Washington, DC, citing rowdy behavior and refusing to wear masks.
Meanwhile, American Airlines said it would be increasing security at the airport and on planes and would not be serving alcohol on flights to and from Washington-area airports through Jan. 21. However, due to the pandemic, the airline served drinks only in the front cabin.