In 2020 we saw the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) introduce a new zero-tolerance policy towards unruly passengers. Unfortunately people are still acting like fools on planes — arguably even more than last year — so the FAA is looking to up the stakes a bit.
FAA wants airport police to take more action
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson wrote a letter to airport leaders, sharing that the FAA is doing everything within its legal authority to reduce inflight disturbances through its policies, but that isn’t enough. When an inflight disturbance happens, typically airport police are called. The FAA is frustrated by how frequently airport police officer are questioning and then immediately releasing passengers without charges, making it harder to hold them accountable. Per the letter:
While the FAA has levied civil fines against unruly passengers, it has no authority to prosecute criminal cases. Every week, we see situations in which law enforcement was asked to meet an aircraft at the gate following an unruly passenger incident. In some cases, flight attendants have reported being physically assaulted. Nevertheless, many of these passengers were interviewed by local police and released without criminal charges of any kind. When this occurs, we miss a key opportunity to hold unruly passengers accountable for their unacceptable and dangerous behavior.
The FAA is spot on. We’ve seen so many incidents of passengers assaulting others and then apparently just walking free. You’d think things would be more high stakes when people misbehave on planes, but often the opposite seems to be the case.
FAA wants “to-go” alcohol to be addressed
Many airlines have stopped selling alcohol onboard flights, thinking this contributes to bad passenger behavior. While that no doubt contributes to some inflight disturbances, I don’t think it’s a primary cause of our issues. After all, alcohol was served on planes before the pandemic, and we’re continuing to see all kinds of disturbances in spite of alcohol not being served.
Nonetheless the FAA is concerned that more people are carrying alcohol onto their flights, particularly alcohol being sold to-go at the airport. Per the letter:
Our investigations show that alcohol often contributes to this unsafe behavior. The FAA requests that airports work with their concessionaires to help avoid this. Even though FAA regulations specifically prohibit the consumption of alcohol aboard an aircraft that is not served by the airline, we have received reports that some airport concessionaires have offered alcohol “to go,” and passengers believe they can carry that alcohol onto their flights or they become inebriated during the boarding process. Airports can help bring awareness to this prohibition on passengers carrying open alcohol onboard their flights through signage, public service announcements, and concessionaire education.
I’m not sure I agree with the FAA here, or at least don’t think that this will solve anything:
- I think most people buying to-go alcohol aren’t necessarily trying to take it onboard, but rather are consuming it in the gate area, or somewhere else they can sit; often airport bars and restaurants just don’t have enough space
- Those passengers who do take alcohol onboard primarily do so because they don’t care what the rules are, and not because they don’t know what the rules are
- It would be one thing to ban the sale of to-go alcohol, but I’m not sure this is an area where “education” will do much — airport businesses like the revenue from selling alcohol and don’t particularly care what happens with it, and those that feel the need to be drunk also don’t care what the rules are
While the FAA has an excellent zero-tolerance policy in place for bad behavior, unfortunately it doesn’t seem to have acted as much of a deterrent. Passengers are continuing to act up at record levels.
The FAA is now asking airport leadership to work with police to increase the number of arrests and charges for disturbances, and to also work with airport businesses to provide “education” on the sale of to-go alcohol. I’m all for the former, while I doubt the latter will accomplish much.
What do you make of how the FAA is looking to tackle inflight disturbances?