FAA says it has seen a spike in unruly behavior from airline passengers

Alaska Airlines airplane
Posted at 3:15 PM, May 04, 2021

Statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration show that reports of unruly passengers on airplanes are on the rise in 2021 as airlines attempt to police restrictions aimed at keeping people safe from COVID-19.

Typically, the FAA in recent years has taken enforcement action against about 100 to 150 people each year dating back to 2012.

But so far this year, just one-third of the way through 2021, FAA says that it has already identified about 260 potential unruly passenger violations. Should it take action in all of those cases, it would represent a 43% increase over the average number of unruly passenger actions it had taken between 1995 and 2019 — and that number would undoubtedly increase over the next seven months.

The FAA also says it has received about 1,300 complaints from airlines regarding unruly passengers — a substantial increase from years past.

The increase in bad behavior has led FAA Administrator Steve Dickson to extend a zero-tolerance policy the agency adopted in January — a policy that forgoes “warnings or counseling” and instead focuses on legal enforcement for anyone who “assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crew members."

“Flying is the safest mode of transportation and I signed this order to keep it that way,” Dickson said in a statement in January.

The zero-tolerance policy was originally supposed to remain in place through March. Upon extending the order on March 16, Dickson did not give a target date for the order's termination.

On Friday, the Transportation Security Administration extended a mask requirement for anyone in an airport or aboard a commercial aircraft through Sept. 13. Airlines have taken action against dozens of passengers who have disregarded mask mandates, some of whom have banned passengers from their planes moving forward.