Airlines and unions in the United States are aiming to implement additional federal criminal charges against unruly passengers. The move comes as the air carriers observe a “growing escalation” of passengers’ disruptive behaviour onboard.

On June 21, 2021, Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), Airlines for America, and other unions sent a letter to the US Attorney General Merrick Garland, asking for “more be done to deter egregious passenger behavior, which is in violation of federal law”.

“We highly commend the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for adopting a stricter legal enforcement policy against unruly airline passengers through Administrator Dickson’s Special Emphasis Enforcement Program,” read the joint letter.

Despite the FAA’s ongoing efforts to investigate incidents, including FAA’s announcements of a combined $368,000 in civil penalty actions against 21 passengers this year to date, the US unions believe the federal government should do more and send a strong message through criminal enforcement that compliance with federal law and “upholding aviation safety are of paramount importance”.

“Aviation safety is a federal matter that impacts passengers and crew members across the country as well as in interstate travel; it is not a local issue subject to jurisdictional variations. We ask that, as the FAA has placed special emphasis on its enforcement program,” read the statement written in a joint letter. 

US-based air carriers have reported an increase in unruly passengers mainly due to misbehaviour related to procedural changes introduced during the pandemic. Up to late May 2021, the FAA received around 2,500 reports of passengers’ misbehaviour, approximately 1,900 of which involved people refusing to wear a mask.

"In a typical year the agency will end up taking this type of enforcement action in about 100 to 160 enforcement cases so it's nothing new," FAA Chief Steve Dickson told ABC News. "What really is new is the volume that we're seeing right now."

While incidents onboard are increasing, they are also becoming more aggressive. A flight attendant was injured during recent incident onboard Southwest Airlines (LUV) flight on May 23, 2021. The flight attendant lost two teeth after being repeatedly punched by the passenger.

The spike in violent incidents onboard prompted Southwest Airlines (LUV) and American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) to ban alcoholic services in May 2021. American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) is reportedly planning to resume serving alcohol on September 13, 2021, when the mask mandate expires.

READ MORE:
 
Flight attendant union president calls for firm action against the alarming increase in disorderly conduct incidents from passengers.