US regulator seeks significant fines for disruptive airline passengers.

Key Points:

  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has forwarded 22 cases involving disruptive passengers to the FBI, bringing this year's total to 39.

  • Reports of unruly airline passengers plummeted 80% after peaking in early 2021, with a notable decrease after the mask mandate's revocation in 2022.

  • Despite declining incidents, alarming episodes such as physical and sexual assaults, including an assault on an unaccompanied minor, remain a concern.

WASHINGTON D.C. — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Tuesday its decision to refer 22 cases of disruptive airline passengers to the FBI, making it a total of 39 such referrals this year. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg stated the importance of aggressively addressing unruly behavior, citing the potential safety threats it poses to both passengers and crew members.

Records show a significant decrease in such incidents on commercial flights. There was an 80% reduction in cases since the peak in early 2021, during which the FAA documented almost 6,000 such incidents. By 2022, this number had reduced to below 2,500. A notable factor in the reduction was the removal of the federal mask mandate in April 2022, which had been a significant point of contention among passengers.

Nevertheless, concerns about disruptive behavior persist. A recent episode involved a 39-year-old male passenger on a Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta to New Orleans, who allegedly assaulted a flight attendant with a sharp object. The same object was used by the man to injure himself.

Cases sent to the FBI for investigation between December 2021 and April 2022 detail various unsettling incidents. These include attempts to breach the cockpit, passengers needing to be physically restrained, and several instances of sexual or physical assault, including the molestation of an unaccompanied minor. As of now, the FBI has not commented on how these cases, referred by the FAA, are being addressed.

The FAA takes the lead in handling grave incidents, often forwarding them to the FBI. However, the FAA also follows its protocol for addressing less severe cases, which might result in hefty fines for the culprits. For instance, in 2022, the FAA proposed an $81,950 fine against a passenger from a 2021 American Airlines flight who allegedly threatened a flight attendant and tried to open the cabin door. Apart from potential criminal prosecution, individuals can also be slapped with civil penalties, amounting to as much as $37,000 per violation.