FAA Extends Zero-Tolerance Policy For Disruptive Passengers

Filed Under: Security/TSA

In January the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) introduced a new zero-tolerance policy for air travelers, threatening jail time and/or a fine of up to $35,000 for bad behavior on planes.

There’s an update on this — not only is this policy being extended, but the FAA has done a phenomenal job with enforcement.

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.

Bottom line

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?

  1. The almost unremarked growth in authoritarianism in western liberal democracies is a cause for significant concern.

  2. @Ben Dover

    This exactly, and we’ll continue to see more and more of this kind of thing. Not surprising given how easily people have handed over all their rights to an authoritarian government.

  3. @Samuel If people are not able to handle and appreciate the freedom that is given to them, then restricting it may not be that bad.

  4. @ Ben Dover

    Steve Dickson is not a liberal political hack. He is an aviation safety professional who spent decades flying for Delta and managing the airline’s safety performance before he was nominated to be FAA head by Trump. In fact a bunch of liberal senators voted against his nomination.

    The previous slap-on-the-wrist enforcement mechanism was not enough to deter an increase in threats and assaults on crewmembers. Regarding face masks, those who cannot medically tolerate masks have no business being on a flight with up to hundreds of other passengers. However, for those who must urgently travel, airlines do have a process where a physician can submit an exemption from wearing a mask.

  5. If people are dumb and want to make trouble on airplanes and endanger everyone, then they should be punished. Freedom shouldn’t be given to mask-less idiots trouble makers.

  6. I’m curious if they have the same rate of incidents in other regions or if this is a peculiarly American problem. Even well before the mask mandates, a whole genre of travel blog post was “fight breaks out on [insert low cost carrier]”. It was a sort of Jerry Springer with a Boarding Pass, but I’m curious how common it actually was.

  7. On the other thread, many people say mainland chinese people are uncivilized. Hmm i wonder why Americans need to have common sense law like this. Hmm. Seems like both are savages! Or perhaps maybe it’s just normal human behavior?

  8. @Ben Dover

    Here we go again…violation of rights. There’s no constitutional right to flying. You pay for a service and in doing so, you accept the rules. Don’t like the rules, don’t fly.

  9. I am all for rules and enforcement, BUT!!!
    I am concerned with the number of cabin attendants that are filled with anger and bias and act out their feelings. Any case in which the alleged misbehaver claims innocence should be investigated. In the event it was totally made up the reporter should lose their job and not work in this industry. It should go both ways.
    3 years ago, in a civil discussion pertaining to boarding with a roll on (permitted size) I was told to check my bag as other around me were let on. When I asked for a manager or station manager I was given an ultimatum, cooperate or deal with Police. Thank you Delta!

  10. The issue is airlines are getting a ton of first time flyers taking advantage of cheap tickets and stimulus money. You know those areas of towns that people avoid due to high crime? Yeah, that is the clientele right now. I was on a flight and the flight attendant had to grab the passenger and physically sit him down because he was about to jump on a lady and beat her up over nothing. Until more people fly and tickets increase, flying right now is a very eye opening experience compared to the past.

  11. Flew Air France from Cancun to Paris Sunday (essential work) – flight full but the number of mask wearers who thought it was entirely acceptable to run around the biz cabin chatting all during the flight without their nose and often mouth covered was alarming. When brought to the attention of the flight attendant (who wear red badges to indicate they are there for your safety) they didn’t seem too bothered and in fact made me the problem when addressing with one particularly offensive individual seated, or should I say for the most part standing behind me. The scene at CDG security, well that was just next level terrifying…… so no, stupidity and bad behavior is not specific to USA, we may just do it a little or a lot more arrogantly and aggressively and perhaps our FAs less tolerant of BS and occasionally perhaps at times self entitled (but walk a mile in their flight slippers!!!). It’s a f-ing plaque – wear the damn mask, sit down and shut up!!! If that’s too uncomfortable try dying…..you’ll choose the mask and proper behavior every time after that, I assure you.

  12. Long overdue. I’ve had 2 flights return to the gate for behavior issues in the past six months – more than in years of flying before.

    In the past, there was a greater chance of the same type of behavior in a bar getting someone arrested than on a commercial airplane in the US.
    there will always be people that act out of emotions – or from being drunk – but a few people might start to have a friend grab them if they start to act out in the future.

  13. @JonH: Agree, that those standing around and chatting during extended periods of time are a nuisance, even during non-pandemic times. If they are without face masks, even more so.

  14. Ummm… I hope the people calling the government “authoritarian” know that fist fights weren’t legal anywhere, even before COVID.

  15. Flying is a privilege not a right. Enough said. Act out or fail to comply with instructions from flight crew, you lose such privileges.

  16. So? This very wordily says that the FAA new rules will be extended. No content or details regarding examples of unruly situations or statistics.

  17. Welcome to the new world of no customer service…it’s prevalent all over china and russia and now its coming to the US…people for the most part will treat others with respect if they are treated kindly and respectfully. Yes there are always outliers, but generally this is true. However with the government bailout and diminishing competition of companies, no more emphasis on customer service is placed. American corporations don’t care about customers, and now the travel and hospitality industries, historically with the greatest emphasis on customer service, want to impose a my way or the highway attitude. Employees are perma-pissed, passengers are perma-pissed, and rude confrontations will become more and more prevalent.
    Can’t say we didn’t see this coming.

    The new USA corporate/government motto – “The beatings will continue until morale improves!”

  18. Fines from one Spirit Airlines flight could fund the entire U.S. Government for a year!

  19. @john what is the difference between a privilege and a right?

    @evan with as much $ the airlines get from the govt and their monopoly they are not purely a private business.

    @donny I agree. I have seen someone get kicked off a plane for no reason.

  20. @ UA-NYC
    I disagree. I have seen travelers close to misbehaving; they were very unlikely to be Trump supporters. My assumption is based on their lingo, hoodies and ethnic orientation. last week a flight between JFK and DR had to deplane some guests.

  21. @Donny – rarely is it “all the people”. There are always exceptions. Did ALL white nationalists vote for Trump? No, just the vast vast vast majority of them.

    Think “most of the people”.

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