FAA Asks Airport Police To Arrest More Unruly Passengers

FAA Asks Airport Police To Arrest More Unruly Passengers

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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

Bottom line

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?

Conversations (14)
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  1. Marcus

    It is never okay to assault someone, and yes I would be really annoyed if my flight got diverted because of a passenger acting a fool. Also, yes, people who don't usually travel may be traveling more now. On top of that, going on an airplane is the first time some have been re-socialized in society.

    Maybe this is the educator in me, but I highly doubt anyone is thinking, I'm going to act...

    It is never okay to assault someone, and yes I would be really annoyed if my flight got diverted because of a passenger acting a fool. Also, yes, people who don't usually travel may be traveling more now. On top of that, going on an airplane is the first time some have been re-socialized in society.

    Maybe this is the educator in me, but I highly doubt anyone is thinking, I'm going to act like a fool on this flight and I won't get in trouble. Increasing the consequence will do nothing to curb the frequency.

    Creating and maintaining a comfortable flying experience, disincentivizing alcohol and understanding that a lot of people are doing something they haven't done in 1.5 years (assume forever) and that will go a long way.

  2. BoarderX

    We can help by not calling punching or sexually assaulting a flight attendant "misbehaving" when it is a straight-up crime, or attempts to sabotage a plane or open a cabin door in-flight as "bad behavior" when it is a catastrophically dangerous felony.

  3. Bo

    I don't think alcohol is the issue. I think this is a symptom of who is flying currently. I am not trying to be elitist but typically a plane (at least on major carriers) is mostly filled with business and other regular flyers. Over the past year, the majority of people flying seem to be people who are not regular flyers. These people don't know a lot of the etiquette of flying and aren't surrounded...

    I don't think alcohol is the issue. I think this is a symptom of who is flying currently. I am not trying to be elitist but typically a plane (at least on major carriers) is mostly filled with business and other regular flyers. Over the past year, the majority of people flying seem to be people who are not regular flyers. These people don't know a lot of the etiquette of flying and aren't surrounded by good examples as they typically would be. Basically, every carrier is flying Spirit's clientele.

    1. miamiorbust

      But Bo, you are being elitist. Own it. That would truly not be elitist.

    2. Kevin

      "I am not trying to be elitist, but I am going to be elitest and entitled as heck." - Bo

  4. Jan

    We do have a good record of prohibition after all, so yes let’s blame alcohol instead of personal responsibility/failing to be an actual adult

  5. Jeffrey I Chang

    If the FAA wanted to address alcohol, then it should prohibit it from being served in airport lounges in addition to restaurants and bars.

    1. miamiorbust

      Federal jurisdiction in most airports ends at TSA screening. FAA cannot even limit gun "enthusiasts" from openly carrying weapons in Atlanta airport baggage claim. wackos can just drink outside security and start arguments in screening line rather on the plane. Just let them drink and accept that fixing air travel may well require fixing America's broken social contract rather than putting up yet another selectively enforced regulation. Seeing every topic as a battle between a...

      Federal jurisdiction in most airports ends at TSA screening. FAA cannot even limit gun "enthusiasts" from openly carrying weapons in Atlanta airport baggage claim. wackos can just drink outside security and start arguments in screening line rather on the plane. Just let them drink and accept that fixing air travel may well require fixing America's broken social contract rather than putting up yet another selectively enforced regulation. Seeing every topic as a battle between a good team and bad team ain't working. You're going to have to talk to other team or they'll just keep messing with you. As long as people are ticked off all the time, good luck controlling violence.

  6. Evan

    Here's the problem I have...the FAA is only looking at 1/2 of the puzzle. I don't condone violence in any form, but you can't place all the blame on the individual and let the airlines off the hook.

    Case and point...Spirit Airlines. For the past five days, they have been "resetting" operations with the cancellation of 50%+ of their flights daily, stranding thousands of passengers.

    Another case and point...AA scheduling too many flights and...

    Here's the problem I have...the FAA is only looking at 1/2 of the puzzle. I don't condone violence in any form, but you can't place all the blame on the individual and let the airlines off the hook.

    Case and point...Spirit Airlines. For the past five days, they have been "resetting" operations with the cancellation of 50%+ of their flights daily, stranding thousands of passengers.

    Another case and point...AA scheduling too many flights and not enough pilots.

    The airlines' response..."we're sorry, we'll try and rectify the situation...in the meantime, you are on your own for additional expenses and trying to get home. If you want to wait in a line for 9+ hours, we can help you then."

    If you want to really tackle the problem, you need to work both sides of the issue.

  7. Eskimo

    You need to read between the lines here. FAA's intention is pretty clear with their opening statement.

    "While the FAA has levied civil fines against unruly passengers,"

    FAA is looking for $$$$$. They ride on the wave that more people are misbehaving after being stuck at home for a year.
    The unwanted consequences will be the cabin crew or front line employees will be exercising their powers to the fullest extent, not just to...

    You need to read between the lines here. FAA's intention is pretty clear with their opening statement.

    "While the FAA has levied civil fines against unruly passengers,"

    FAA is looking for $$$$$. They ride on the wave that more people are misbehaving after being stuck at home for a year.
    The unwanted consequences will be the cabin crew or front line employees will be exercising their powers to the fullest extent, not just to unruly passengers but to all passengers who doesn't comply with anything. We have enough airline Gestapos already.

    I don't condone any air rage or disruptive behavior. I'm merely echoing the hidden meaning.

  8. pstm91

    If you are someone who would get into a brawl/major altercation at an airport, then you don't belong in a plane. Simple as that. It is so easy to be a "decent" person (and there's a pretty low bar for that nowadays), that anything else deserves harsh punishment.

  9. James S

    If only there was some kind of transportation security agency that could arrest people at airports

    1. Zamzad

      Well, they'd have to create one because a current transportation security agency has no such power.

  10. EndlosLuft

    I think there is a big difference when people brawl at a pub or in their neighborhood vs at an airport or airplane. If the FAA fines aren't enough then this should become a federal crime. Unless you happen to be restraining someone trying to hijack a plane or opening doors, etc. Violence at an airport and especially within an airplane should only be allowed by Air Marshals or similar federal officers. The media needs...

    I think there is a big difference when people brawl at a pub or in their neighborhood vs at an airport or airplane. If the FAA fines aren't enough then this should become a federal crime. Unless you happen to be restraining someone trying to hijack a plane or opening doors, etc. Violence at an airport and especially within an airplane should only be allowed by Air Marshals or similar federal officers. The media needs to report how high these fines are and that people were serving jail time for fighting. They are a danger and threat to their fellow passengers and if they aren't adult enough to understand that then they have to be educated by the legal system.

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Bo

I don't think alcohol is the issue. I think this is a symptom of who is flying currently. I am not trying to be elitist but typically a plane (at least on major carriers) is mostly filled with business and other regular flyers. Over the past year, the majority of people flying seem to be people who are not regular flyers. These people don't know a lot of the etiquette of flying and aren't surrounded by good examples as they typically would be. Basically, every carrier is flying Spirit's clientele.

Evan

Here's the problem I have...the FAA is only looking at 1/2 of the puzzle. I don't condone violence in any form, but you can't place all the blame on the individual and let the airlines off the hook. Case and point...Spirit Airlines. For the past five days, they have been "resetting" operations with the cancellation of 50%+ of their flights daily, stranding thousands of passengers. Another case and point...AA scheduling too many flights and not enough pilots. The airlines' response..."we're sorry, we'll try and rectify the situation...in the meantime, you are on your own for additional expenses and trying to get home. If you want to wait in a line for 9+ hours, we can help you then." If you want to really tackle the problem, you need to work both sides of the issue.

Marcus

It is never okay to assault someone, and yes I would be really annoyed if my flight got diverted because of a passenger acting a fool. Also, yes, people who don't usually travel may be traveling more now. On top of that, going on an airplane is the first time some have been re-socialized in society. Maybe this is the educator in me, but I highly doubt anyone is thinking, I'm going to act like a fool on this flight and I won't get in trouble. Increasing the consequence will do nothing to curb the frequency. Creating and maintaining a comfortable flying experience, disincentivizing alcohol and understanding that a lot of people are doing something they haven't done in 1.5 years (assume forever) and that will go a long way.

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