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Unruly passengers on flights need to be charged as criminals, airline unions say

Mad as hell about the increasingly unfriendly skies, airline industry groups want ‘strong and consistent’ enforcement from the federal government.

Unruly passengers on flights need to be charged as criminals, airline unions say
[Source Photos: rawpixel and Unspalsh]
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Although air travel has taken a major hit during the pandemic, now that many of the restrictions are being lifted, the industry is experiencing a resurgence. But for flight crews, life above the clouds is quickly reaching a tipping (or should we say boiling) point, as the number of passengers exhibiting aggressive and unruly behavior continues to rise.

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On the heels of a Federal Aviation Administration report that cited more than 3,000 incidences of unruly passenger behavior since January 13, 2021—two of which resulted in Delta Air Lines flights being diverted—a coalition of aviation unions and industry stakeholders escalated their grievance to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

“Aviation safety is a federal matter that impacts passengers and crew members across the country as well as in interstate travel,” the stakeholders wrote in a letter made public on Monday. “[It] is not a local issue subject to jurisdictional variations. We ask that, as the FAA has placed special emphasis on its enforcement program, the Department should direct federal prosecutors to dedicate resources for egregious cases.”

The letter was signed by the following:

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  • Airlines for America
  • Air Line Pilots Association
  • Allied Pilots Association
  • Association of Flight Attendants
  • Association of Professional Flight Attendants
  • Coalition of Airline Pilots Association
  • National Air Carrier Association
  • Regional Airline Association
  • Southwest Airlines Pilots Association
  • Transport Workers Union of America

Criminal prosecution would not only serve as adequate punishment, the signatories said, but would also act as a deterrent to future disruptions. To date, the FAA levied civil penalties related to passenger behavior in the amount of $368,000 against 21 passengers, according to the letter. Since the beginning of the year, the FAA has also conducted 465 investigations into assaults, threats of assault, or other interference with crew members.

The groups have asked the government to “send a strong and consistent message through criminal enforcement.”

You can read the full letter here.

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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