FAA Tells Airlines To Do More About Unruly Passenger Behavior

FAA Tells Airlines To Do More About Unruly Passenger Behavior

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wants airlines to do more to address unruly passengers, and they’ll have to act quick… but how?

FAA gives airlines one week to do better

As reported by Reuters, the FAA met with airline trade groups on Tuesday, expressing concern over the continued number of inflight disturbances. In 2021 alone we’ve seen nearly 4,400 reported cases of unruly airplane passenger incidents, and nearly 3,200 of those were mask related. The FAA has initiated enforcement actions in 162 cases, issuing more than $1 million in proposed fines (“proposed” is the key word here).

During a meeting this week, the FAA has urged airlines to “commit to take more action” to address reports of unruly passenger behavior. The FAA is asking airlines and trade groups to disclose within a week what steps they will take to curb these inflight incidents. The FAA states that it “believes additional action by the airlines and all aviation stakeholders is necessary to stop the unsafe behavior.”

All of this follows the FAA introducing a “zero tolerance” policy back in 2020, threatening fines and jail time for unruly passengers. In early August, the FAA asked airport police to arrest more unruly passengers. The FAA is frustrated by how frequently airport police officers immediately release passengers without charges, making it hard for these passengers to be held accountable.

The FAA is asking airlines to do more to prevent incidents

I’m not sure there’s much more airlines can do

I’ve gotta be honest, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot airlines can do here. Short of airlines developing some sort of pixie dust in the next week, what exactly the FAA is hoping to hear? As you can see, around three-quarters of these inflight disturbances are mask related.

The way I view it:

  • Credit where credit’s due, on balance airline employees do a great job with mask enforcement, and there’s not any other public place where you’ll find mask usage as consistently
  • For all the wrong reasons, masks usage has become political, the country is pretty divided, and people are just going to act out of line as long as the mask mandate is in effect
  • While nearly 4,400 reported cases this year sounds like a lot, the TSA has screened roughly 400 million passengers so far this year, so these incidents involve 0.000011% of passengers
  • As the FAA has stated in the past, I think one big area for improvement is police not immediately letting people go without charges following these incidents, and also more people facing charges and fines; the consequences people have faced in practice have largely been pretty limited

I hate to say it, but personally I’m kind of in the “it is what it is” camp when it comes to passengers acting out of line. As long as the mask mandate is in place, I’m not sure airlines can do a whole lot more to reduce the number of incidents.

While inflight disturbances have gotten a lot of media attention, it really only accounts for a tiny percentage of passengers. I haven’t personally seen a single inflight disturbance of any sort since the start of the pandemic.

What more can airlines be expected to do?

Bottom line

The FAA is asking airlines and trade groups to do more to prevent inflight disturbances. The FAA is asking airlines to present what they’ll do to stop these situations in the future within a week.

Personally I think this is a problem without a solution for as long as the mask mandate is in place. And if there is a solution, I think it comes in the form of better enforcement from police officers, and also more charges being brought against passengers.

I’ll be curious to see what airlines propose, because I’m not sure what else they’re expected to do.

Do you think there’s anything else airlines can do to prevent inflight disturbances?

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  1. Kevin R

    My opinion is that the airline seats have become unacceptably small with so little wiggle room, that then requiring masks adds additional claustrophobia which pushes some passengers over the edge. How much unruly behavior has there been in the front of the plane compared to the back. I think airlines need to backtrack some on how squeezed in and small the coach slimline seats have become.

  2. Tammy

    Definitely there is something they can do. You cause a scene on a plane, and you are immediately taken off the plane and put on a no fly list. No second chances.

  3. JayT

    How about all airlines merging their no fly lists? Take away the idea that if one passenger misbehaves on one airline, he/she can just fly another airline. The thought of being banned from all airlines might make prevent some unruly passengers think twice.

  4. Ross

    Sounds like the FAA is just passing the buck. What a joke organization they have become. THE FAA is the problem because they don't prosecute enough of these clowns. The airlines aren't the police!

  5. Deboragh

    No masking—I will stop flying. Too many mutations, the virus continues to change favoring survival. Not survival of the host.
    Everyone knows when they purchase their ticket, they must mask.
    Fines $$$ might help.

  6. FlyerDon

    I would not drop the mask mandate unless the airlines ban unvaccinated people from flying. I also agree that the airlines have to stop packing so many people into their aircraft. You couldn't pay me to ride in coach, in a center seat, on a 737 flying from MIA to SEA.

  7. michael

    If masks causes the problem. get rid of mask rules.it is stupid and doesnt do a thing anyhow. If someone has covid and eats and if air purifiers on plane are not good enough then whether he wears a mask for 85% of flight or zero will not make a difference.At beginning of pandemic show me a case study that shows an infected person on a plane infects many others. I would love to see...

    If masks causes the problem. get rid of mask rules.it is stupid and doesnt do a thing anyhow. If someone has covid and eats and if air purifiers on plane are not good enough then whether he wears a mask for 85% of flight or zero will not make a difference.At beginning of pandemic show me a case study that shows an infected person on a plane infects many others. I would love to see the data on that jetblue flight to florida at the beginning where that one passenger who was sick found out he had it on the flight. I'm sure that early on they tracked all the other passengers.

    require vaccination to fly and if you want to be protected wear an 95 mask.This is not March 2020- anyone can buy an N95 mask. so no reason to have others wear masks to protect others. If you are so concerned wear an n95 yourself and don't eat or drink on a plane.

    end of story!

  8. dander

    Zero tolerance policy if you screw up no fly list for 3 years, plus a fine. Also it would be nice if Police were allowed to put people in jail overnight.
    Lets go further and enforce the dress code, no more "we'll put you on the next flight and give you goodies if you complain on social media".

  9. TheJagMan

    There's two common issues, masks and rude behavior...I haven't seen any mask issues ever cross the line, I have seen rude behavior close to crossing the line...

  10. Pat

    I doubt airlines will do much more than they do now. They will not risk the bad press and the lawsuits people in that camp surely will try to raise. Ownership needs to be taken by the right people (i.e. law enforcement). Enforce the zero tolerance policy and impose mandatory fines and potential jail time. Problem solved.

  11. Matthew

    "these incidents involve 0.000011% of passengers"
    While not excusing these jerks, they are a relatively rare event.

    A-hole/unruly flight attendants... 1% or higher.
    How much do unruly FA's contribute to overall flight anger? I bet a lot more.
    Don't get me wrong, treat all FA's with respect, whether they deserve it not; Respect the position if not the person. But, if FA's got more de-escalation training a lot of this would go away.

  12. Jack A.

    Two fixes:

    1) Remove masked mandate.
    2) Police file charges.

    None of them have to do with the airlines. Almost feels like the FAA decided to pass the buck without any thought into it.

  13. Matt

    I wonder if inflight incidents are higher on airlines with no seatback IFE versus those with seatback IFE? Same question for pitch, legroom, seat width, etc. Apart from the obvious issues with masks, it seems like packing more seats into planes and removing seatback IFE is a recipe for disaster because it leaves passengers even more uncomfortable and with nothing to distract them from their circumstances. I typically fly up front but recently flew coach...

    I wonder if inflight incidents are higher on airlines with no seatback IFE versus those with seatback IFE? Same question for pitch, legroom, seat width, etc. Apart from the obvious issues with masks, it seems like packing more seats into planes and removing seatback IFE is a recipe for disaster because it leaves passengers even more uncomfortable and with nothing to distract them from their circumstances. I typically fly up front but recently flew coach on American, and to top it off, I did not have my iPad on me. Two hours into a flight in that cramped seat with no IFE, I was very uncomfortable and testy. I can't help but wonder if these factors are contributing to the rise in incidents.

  14. Samuel

    What if we just stop making people wear useless masks so they can actually breathe?

    1. Indopithecus

      They just might kill a few people. Is that ok, Samuel?

    2. GBOAC

      @Samuel:
      Please provide references that show that masks are useless and that people can't breathe. You might ask the crew on your next flight whether they can breathe

    3. Samuel

      How about virtually every study pre-2020, the danmask study, the bangladesh study, and dozens of analysis of city/states with mask mandates compared to those without them over the last 18 months?

  15. Anon

    Give pax seated nearby legal standing to sue in court persons not wearing a mask?

  16. Sung

    Maybe a no fly list where people are put on temporarily, with longer stays depending on severity of the incident, but it WILL require ombudsman to prevent airlines/staff from abusing this power or power trips.

  17. Michael McDonald

    Agree on having airport police arrest passengers that have to be escorted off planes. Place them automatically on the no-fly list, but the no-fly list is specific to an airline. Get the airlines to link their no-fly lists so that passengers banned on one airline will be banned from all of them.

  18. Analysethedata

    Make masks optional. Problem solved. If you are are vaconated you have nothing to worry about. If you are a kid you have nothing to worry about. If you are unvaccinated, then get vaccinated or wear mask.

    1. GBOAC

      About If you are are vaconated you have nothing to worry about."
      WRONG.
      This summer has shown that fully vaccinated people are suffering breakthrough infection albeit not nearly as severe as unvaccinated folk. And they can spread the virus as well. So until we conquer the delta variant, vaccinated people do have something to worry about and should continue to wear masks in situations where they do not know the vaccination status of folks they are traveling with.

  19. AlanD

    I think that unless another new and worse variant takes over in the winter the mask mandate should be moved to voluntary and encouraged by March. There's evidence to support even vaccinated travelers being carriers and spreading it around as they move between places. Masking also reduced flu to almost non-existent last winter. So it is right to keep it in place until the spring. However, even as somebody working in healthcare I feel that...

    I think that unless another new and worse variant takes over in the winter the mask mandate should be moved to voluntary and encouraged by March. There's evidence to support even vaccinated travelers being carriers and spreading it around as they move between places. Masking also reduced flu to almost non-existent last winter. So it is right to keep it in place until the spring. However, even as somebody working in healthcare I feel that there's a point where enough will be enough for many travelers. By March we'll be at 2 years of COVID restrictions and 21 months of mask mandates on planes. If COVID is still a big issue we should move to a policy of only flying if you're vaccinated and/or have a negative PCR test. Maybe offer bonus miles or something to those voluntarily wearing masks.

  20. Rao

    Actually in my experience its the vaccinated that have been the issue. A durect quote Ive heard multiple times is " Im vaccinated why do I need to wear a mask?"

    1. Tortuga

      This ranks as one of the most disingenuous things I've ever heard.

  21. kenindfw

    If incidents represent such a small percentage of actual fliers then put them on the no fly list. For example, that young man, early 20s, that was taped to his seat after assaulting a flight attendant. No fly list for him. Those students who were going to the Bahamas last spring and spoiled everyone's vacation, no fly list for them. Make them have to go through all the steps and hoops to get off the...

    If incidents represent such a small percentage of actual fliers then put them on the no fly list. For example, that young man, early 20s, that was taped to his seat after assaulting a flight attendant. No fly list for him. Those students who were going to the Bahamas last spring and spoiled everyone's vacation, no fly list for them. Make them have to go through all the steps and hoops to get off the list, no exceptions. No one wants to fly with these clowns on the plane, including their travel companions.

  22. David Jonathan Lavin

    Thank you for this thoughtful article. I am holding out an intention that the airlines will ban non-compliant, disruptive passengers, not only for the duration of the public health emergency, but for good. Forget this "until the pandemic is over" caveat. Airlines can (and need to) back up their employees (and passengers) by enforcing these rules/laws when infractions are reported by flight attendants or other staff. Airline enforcement follow-through (i.e., putting a PX on a...

    Thank you for this thoughtful article. I am holding out an intention that the airlines will ban non-compliant, disruptive passengers, not only for the duration of the public health emergency, but for good. Forget this "until the pandemic is over" caveat. Airlines can (and need to) back up their employees (and passengers) by enforcing these rules/laws when infractions are reported by flight attendants or other staff. Airline enforcement follow-through (i.e., putting a PX on a no-fly list) is not always happening now, even when infractions are reported by staff. Removing an unruly passenger from one flight only to let them board another will...not...help. The perpetrators of these violations just ought to lose their privilege to fly, plain and simple.

    Beyond that, I am holding an intention that airlines will begin freely sharing their no-fly lists with competitor airlines, so that other air carriers can make preemptive decisions about doing business with known unruly, non-compliant passengers.

    In the case of assault or battery against a crew member, if charges will not be brought on the ground, airlines ought to fully support a crew member pressing personal charges against the perpetrator (complete with the airline providing legal representation on behalf of the crew member, and offering immediate airline support for collecting voluntary witnesses of the incident). Airlines might be surprised just how many passengers will *gladly* act as witnesses, if it helps to stop these dangerous infractions.

    In the event a passenger represents a threat to others or themselves, airlines or airports might also consider staffing airports with at least one clinical social worker (like myself) who has the authority to "section" a passenger involuntarily to an emergency room for psychiatric evaluation.

    Lastly, as the article rightly noted, law *enforcement* is the missing piece. The DOJ absolutely must press charges against passengers who interfere with a flight crew to any extent, and local law enforcement (where appropriate) must arrest passengers when the situation warrants it. It seems that if an airplane has to return to the gate because of a security issue aboard, that there would be ample enough reason for an arrest.

    Clean up the skies.

  23. Modern Problems Call for Modern Solutions

    If the airlines need to make a suggestion, just say 72% of the issues are because of masks. End the mandate, end the nonsense. In the vast majority of this country, people don't wear masks.

  24. NSS

    There is absolutely a solution. Ban unvaccinated travelers from domestic flights. Something tells me they're the ones acting out. Problem solved.

    1. Indopithecus

      Excellent solution.

  25. tim

    I disagree Ben. Masks are contributing here, but the inherent problem is that the airlines have been treating their customers more and more like cattle over the last 20 years. We have had enough.
    Give us more legroom, stop keeping our money when you cancel our flights, and provide more/better basic food (especially in F).

    1. Evan

      Totally agree...COVID is now an "excuse" to cut services for economy class customers. Take a cross-country flight. In first class, it's okay to serve customers meals, but in coach they won't even sell food because of "COVID" and suggest customers bring food on board. 5 hour plus flight with no food, that creates agitated people. Add masks and the fun begins.

      I get people are responsible for their own actions, but the airlines need to...

      Totally agree...COVID is now an "excuse" to cut services for economy class customers. Take a cross-country flight. In first class, it's okay to serve customers meals, but in coach they won't even sell food because of "COVID" and suggest customers bring food on board. 5 hour plus flight with no food, that creates agitated people. Add masks and the fun begins.

      I get people are responsible for their own actions, but the airlines need to have common sense. You can't have an aircraft in in the air for 5+ hours, no food for economy and then expect nothing to happen. Oh yeah, but still sell alcohol?!?

  26. Donna

    A ban across all air carriers for five years should put a stop to this.

  27. Anonymous

    I think a tiered ban across all airlines would be good in addition to the fines. First offense - two years across all airlines. Second offense - five years across all airlines. Third offense - lifetime ban across all airlines with the possible reinstatement after ten years if certain conditions are met.

    1. Indopithecus

      This is where the Feds can knock some heads together.

  28. Ali

    The airlines can collaborate to temporarily ban unruly passengers across the airlines. The FAA could and should do this but its probably politically untenable. Somehow we are better at accepting control when private companies do it.

    1. Nils

      Shouldn't there be some due process?

  29. Steven M

    "I hate to say it, but personally I’m kind of in the “it is what it is” camp when it comes to passengers acting out of line. As long as the mask mandate is in place, I’m not sure airlines can do a whole lot more to reduce the number of incidents."

    This is 100% correct. If the FAA wants even more enforcement then it should ask the Federal Air Marshal Service to assist in...

    "I hate to say it, but personally I’m kind of in the “it is what it is” camp when it comes to passengers acting out of line. As long as the mask mandate is in place, I’m not sure airlines can do a whole lot more to reduce the number of incidents."

    This is 100% correct. If the FAA wants even more enforcement then it should ask the Federal Air Marshal Service to assist in enforcement. Airline employees are not trained police officers, nor are they nearly as well paid as those with a badge and a weapon to enforce federal regulations.

  30. DANIEL GONZALES

    I agree it's hard what else can airlines really do?

    On my last Southwest flight, during the pre-flight announcements the crew said outright (paraphrasing) "we have a zero tolerance for any sort of nonsense or misbehavior. If you see a fellow passenger acting inappropriately please let us know right away."

    Setting the tone in that way at the start of the flight I think might help.

    1. TJ

      I was on a Southwest flight (shortly after the incident where a FA had several teeth knocked out) and the message was even more extreme… “You get one warning… masks on at all times, there’s no second warning. Second time, we let the pilot know, he calls ATC and you’ll be escorted off the plane by the sheriffs when we land.” Also a very strongly worded announcement about no booze.

  31. Chris Ebels

    This seems very unfair. What are the airlines supposed to do?

    1. Steve

      Its a no win situation for the airlines. Not to be political but the data about the effectiveness of masks is clear at this point. 95% of the cloth masks people wear provide no protection, the air filters in the planes are far more effective at keeping people safe. It is time to stop mandating the masks, people still can wear them if they choose no one is ever going to force you to not wear one. I think this will solve many of the problems.

  32. panda

    They can coordinate on a 2 year flight ban for any offenders instead of just banning people from their own airline.

  33. MIT

    Consequences need to be more significant, with 100% enforcement:
    Tier fines STARTING with $25000 for first offense, doubling for subsequent offenses, with NO exceptions.
    Or
    Fines to include ALL costs of delays or flight diversions incurred by airlines AND each passenger be assigned to violators and enforced 100%, with NO exceptions.
    Assign Air Marshalls to major flights, for immediate risk mitigation and enforcement.

  34. Usuarius Shekelberg

    I get drunk in the remote parking prior
    To my flight

    1. Chris Ebels

      A man after my own heart

    2. TheJagMan

      Amateur! Real drunks drink on the plane...ha ha

  35. Grzegorz

    Generally that depends. If there is about really unruly passenger because of its stupidity then ok. Airlines should act faster and more serious. But if there will be a door for behavior like: airline can do everything, passengers can do nothing and must to accept because if not, will meet the fine - that’s not ok. For example, if there is about antimasks idiots - kick them out, ask to pay fine and blacklist them....

    Generally that depends. If there is about really unruly passenger because of its stupidity then ok. Airlines should act faster and more serious. But if there will be a door for behavior like: airline can do everything, passengers can do nothing and must to accept because if not, will meet the fine - that’s not ok. For example, if there is about antimasks idiots - kick them out, ask to pay fine and blacklist them. But what is passengers fight because of denied bording due to airline policy (overbooking)? Or change paid seat because of their own idea and passenger must to accept? Or any other situation disturbing calm and smooth travel due to „comfort” of airline not about the passenger? This is not acceptable.

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NSS

There is absolutely a solution. Ban unvaccinated travelers from domestic flights. Something tells me they're the ones acting out. Problem solved.

DANIEL GONZALES

I agree it's hard what else can airlines really do? On my last Southwest flight, during the pre-flight announcements the crew said outright (paraphrasing) "we have a zero tolerance for any sort of nonsense or misbehavior. If you see a fellow passenger acting inappropriately please let us know right away." Setting the tone in that way at the start of the flight I think might help.

kenindfw

If incidents represent such a small percentage of actual fliers then put them on the no fly list. For example, that young man, early 20s, that was taped to his seat after assaulting a flight attendant. No fly list for him. Those students who were going to the Bahamas last spring and spoiled everyone's vacation, no fly list for them. Make them have to go through all the steps and hoops to get off the list, no exceptions. No one wants to fly with these clowns on the plane, including their travel companions.

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