The Federal Aviation Administration is urging local law enforcement to file charges more often against unruly airline passengers. In a letter to airport officials around the country, FAA head Stephen Dickson said with the rising number of incidents involving unruly and unsafe behavior, local police need to step up enforcement.
“Every week police are asked to be there when a flight lands after an incident involving passengers, including cases in which they assault flight attendants,” Dickson wrote. “Nevertheless, many of these passengers were interviewed by local police and released without criminal charges of any kind.”
Under its zero-tolerance policy the FAA has the authority to levy stiff civil penalties of up to $37,000 against passengers behaving badly. However the number of headline-making incidents where cabin crews and other travelers have been harassed, threatened, sexually assaulted and, in some cases, physically attacked has surged.
“While the FAA has levied civil fines against unruly passengers, it has no authority to prosecute criminal cases,” Dickson noted. When passengers who engage in such behavior are merely questioned and released by police, “we miss a key opportunity to hold unruly passengers accountable for their unacceptable and dangerous behavior.”
Since Jan. 1, airlines have reported 3,715 incidents involving unruly passengers. The majority of the disputes come from travelers refusing to wear federally mandated face masks on airline flights. According to the FAA, investigations are underway in more than 600 of those cases – compared to fewer than 150 investigations in 2019 — and the agency has proposed fines in 99 of them.
However, many incidents reportedly involve passengers who are intoxicated, so in addition, Dickson wants airports to clamp down on alcohol sales. In his letter, he blamed some airport concessionaires for selling alcohol to go, resulting in passengers who become inebriated prior to boarding or try to carry their drinks on the plane.
FAA regulations prohibit passengers on flights from consuming any alcohol that isn’t served by airlines.