FAA threatening to jail & fine unruly passengers
In January FAA Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order directing a stricter legal enforcement policy against misbehaving airline passengers in the wake of recent events. This follows “a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior,” stemming from passengers’ refusal to wear masks, and also stemming from (at the time) violence at the US Capitol.
With this FAA policy:
- Passengers who interfere with, physically assault, or threaten to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft face stiffer penalties
- These penalties include fines of up to $35,000 and/or imprisonment
When the policy was first introduced it was only supposed to be in effect through March 30, 2021, though there’s an update on that front — the FAA’s zero-tolerance policy is being extended for at least as long as the federal mask mandate is in place for travel.
How does the FAA’s policy differ from the previous policy? The FAA used to address unruly passenger incidents primarily through warnings and counseling. These cases are no longer being addressed that way, but rather the agency is pursuing legal enforcement action against misbehaving passengers.
It’s important to note that the FAA doesn’t actually have regulatory authority over aviation security or no-fly lists, but rather the FAA works closely with federal law enforcement and national security partners on reported security threats that impact aviation safety. When this policy was put into place, the FAA had initiated more than 1,300 enforcement actions against unruly passengers in the previous decade.
The FAA has been enforcing this policy
When the FAA first introduced this policy at the beginning of the year I was skeptical of whether this was all talk, or if there would be action behind it. Even taking the events of the past few months and coronavirus out of the equation, I absolutely think we need to see stricter legal enforcement of how passengers behave on planes.
It’s amazing how often we see major fights break out on planes, and no one gets charged. There’s a time and place for that — actually, no, there really isn’t — but an airplane especially isn’t the time or place for such behavior.
Now that the policy has been in place for a couple of months, I can say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the enforcement we’ve seen. The agency has now taken action against more than a few passengers, and fines have generally been in the tens of thousands of dollars. That only seems fair given how some passengers have acted.
Since late December alone, US airlines have reported more than 500 unruly passengers to the FAA, and the agency is going through the cases one-by-one.
Will this deter bad behavior, though?
Arguably the biggest question is whether fear of stricter punishment will act as a deterrent for this kind of behavior:
- When it comes to masks, a big part of the problem is that the people causing problems think they’re doing the right thing and being patriotic by standing up for their “freedoms” and “God’s breathing system”
- When it comes to the baseless fist fights we see on planes, well, I feel like there’s not a lot of thinking going on there in general
Time will tell if this leads to a reduction in these kinds of incidents.
At the beginning of 2021, the FAA introduced a new zero-tolerance policy for unruly behavior on planes, threatening to fine and jail passengers for bad behavior. This comes at a time of high tension on planes.
While I was skeptical at first, I’ve been impressed by the enforcement action the agency has taken so far, so here’s to hoping that this starts to act as a deterrent over time.
What do you make of the FAA’s zero-tolerance policy?