U.S. airlines have reported a spike in unruly passengers this year, primarily due to aggressive behavior in response to procedural changes introduced during the pandemic. Up to late May 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) received around 3,000 reports of disruptive passengers, approximately 2,300 of which involved people refusing to wear a mask. FAA investigations into potential federal law violations where passengers directly interfered with the duties of crewmembers also reached their highest level since 1995, just five months into 2021. There were 394 such investigations by late May of this year, more than double the total number in 2020 and two half a times the number in 2019.
Last month, FAA chief Steve Dickson told ABC News that “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”, before adding that “what is really new is the volume that we’re seeing right now”. While incidents are increasing, they are also becoming more and more violent, something which has prompted Southwest
In January, the head of the FAA outlined a zero-tolerance policy towards troublemakers on commercial flights where punishments could be handed down without warning involving prison sentences and fines of up to $35,000. Even though that policy was extended in March, it has not resulted in a decrease in unruly passenger behavior. Just last week, an internal Delta flight was diverted to New Mexico after a passenger attempted to break into the cockpit before being restrained by the crew and other passengers. He was later handed over to the FBI after the flight touched down in Albuquerque.
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