The US Federal Aviation Administration says it wants airlines to do more to crack down on unruly passengers.
As US airlines grapple with record numbers of disruptive or violent customers, the FAA says the companies themselves must “commit to take more action”.
At a meeting with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and other groups on Tuesday, the regulatory agency told airlines it “believes additional action by the airlines and all aviation stakeholders is necessary to stop the unsafe behavior,” Reuters reported.
Over the past year, airlines have seen 4,385 reports of unruly passengers, according to data from the FAA. Of those, a large majority – 3,199 – have been related to masks, which passengers are required to wear onboard due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, the FAA says it held a discussion with the country’s major airlines on “ways the industry can work together to reduce the number of unruly passenger incidents”. The companies have one week, the FAA said, to report back on what concrete steps they will take.
The meeting comes a day after two Democratic senators requested that the Department of Justice do more to prosecute passengers who have committed crimes in the sky.
“In recent months, incidents involving unruly airline passengers have increased dramatically,” senators Dick Durbin and Maria Cantwell wrote in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland. “These incidents put passengers and crewmembers in danger.”
The letter noted that the FAA had already issued over $1 million in fines over the past year, but said this was not enough.
“While these efforts are commendable, civil fines are not a sufficient deterrent to curb the recent tide of unruly passengers,” the senators wrote. “It is critical that DOJ direct federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors… to fully investigate reported incidents on aircraft, and, when supported by the evidence, prosecute those who are criminally responsible.”
Violence on planes has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic. According to one survey, almost one out of every five flight attendants said they’d been in a “physical incident” with a passenger in the past year.
Some companies, including American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, have responded by banning or suspending alcohol from their planes – particularly after an especially violent incident in May left one flight attendant missing two teeth.
“Let me be clear,” Brady Byrnes, American Airlines’ head of flight service wrote in a company memo at the time. “American Airlines will not tolerate assault or mistreatment of our crews.”