Airline industry groups requests criminal crackdown on out-of-control passengers
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By Hannah Sampson
A COALITION of airline industry groups has asked the US Justice Department to “commit to the full and public prosecution of onboard acts of violence” as bad behaviour by passengers continues to rise.
In a letter sent to Attorney-General Merrick Garland on Monday, the group, which includes unions and trade associations, lauded the efforts of the Federal Aviation Administration, which announced a zero-tolerance policy for bad behaviour in January.
Since then, the agency has received about 3 100 reports of unruly behaviour and opened investigations into at least 465 incidents, compared with 146 across all 2019. The FAA has kicked off 57 civil penalty actions, Monday's letter said, and announced a total of $368 000 (about R5 million) in fines against 21 passengers.
Late on Tuesday, the FAA announced that it was proposing another $124 500 in fines against eight more travellers, bringing this year’s total to $563 800.
The FAA said it had the authority to levy fines but not to criminally prosecute passengers, some of whom, in 2021, have flouted mask regulations, got into shouting matches and attacked flight attendants.
“We ask that more be done to deter egregious behaviour, which is in violation of federal law and crew member instruction,” the industry coalition said.
“Specifically, the federal government should send a strong and consistent message through criminal enforcement that compliance with federal law and upholding aviation safety are of paramount importance.”
The groups asked that federal prosecutors put resources toward what they called “egregious” cases. The department said it had received the letter but had no comment on the request.
The trade group Airlines for America, which signed on to the Justice Department letter, also sent a separate missive to FAA administrator Steve Dickson. In it, the group said measures such as flying bans and the suspension of alcohol service had not been enough to stop unruly behaviour by passengers.
“Unfortunately, we continue to see onboard behaviour deteriorating into heinous acts, including assaults, threats and intimidation of crew members that directly interfere with the performance of crew member duties and jeopardize the safety and security of everyone onboard the aircraft,” wrote Nicholas Calio, Airlines for America’s president and chief executive.
Calio requested that the FAA refer “abhorrent cases” to the Justice Department “so that the federal government may fully, swiftly and publicly prosecute criminal acts to the fullest extent of the law and deter this dangerous and concerning behaviour”. He also asked that the FAA and other federal agencies continue to get the word out about the penalties travellers face for bad behaviour in the air, which can include large fines and jail time.
“The FAA’s zero tolerance policy remains fully in place,” the agency said. “And we will continue to work with local law enforcement and the DOJ to make it clear that unsafe and unruly behaviour simply does not fly.”