Democratic senators want FAA & DOJ crackdown on unruly airline passengers

U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell and Richard Durbin, sent separate letters to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Steve Dickson regarding increased incidents involving dangerous airline passengers. .

The FAA, meanwhile, urged U.S. passenger airlines “to commit to take more action” to address reports of violent or unruly passengers.

The senators called on the agencies to coordinate efforts to ensure that those airline passengers who commit criminal acts are prosecuted.

“Civil penalties alone are failing to deter criminal activity by airline passengers,” the lawmakers wrote to the FAA administrator. “Robust and public efforts to prosecute those who endanger passengers and crewmembers are necessary to deter interference with safe air travel. The FAA plays a critical role in investigating and referring criminal incidents to federal law enforcement authorities.”

Cantwell leads the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and Durbin is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The FAA asked airline trade groups to disclose what steps they will take to curb incidents involving violent or unruly travelers at a time when the industry is facing a record number of airline passenger disturbances.

FAA officials also plan to meet with representatives from airports and labor unions to discover ways to regain control over the skies and curb misconduct.

The meeting with groups, including Airlines for America, a group representing American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and others, discussed “ways the industry can work together to reduce the number of unruly passenger incidents,” the FAA said, adding it “believes additional action by the airlines and all aviation stakeholders is necessary to stop the unsafe behavior.”

As of September 14, 2021, there have been 4,284 reports of unruly passenger incidents this year—3,123 of which were mask-related.

Additionally, the FAA has initiated 755 investigations into unruly passengers, which is more than double the investigations for 2019 and 2020 combined.

FAA enforcement actions initiated in 154 cases have resulted in more than one million dollars in fines.

“As you know, DOJ has ample authority to prosecute those who commit crimes while onboard an aircraft,” the senators wrote to the Attorney General. “It is critical that DOJ direct federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors to use these authorities to fully investigate reported incidents on aircraft, and, when supported by the evidence, prosecute those who are criminally responsible.”

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