Since January, the FAA has received more than 3,000 reports of unruly behaviour by American passengers and opened 465 investigations into assaults, threats of violence or interference with air crews.
Airlines, flight attendants and pilots have been calling for the US Justice Department to prosecute unruly and violent passengers.
In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, the trade group Airlines for America and unions for pilots and flight crew cited a “substantial increase in and growing escalation of passengers’ unruly and disruptive behaviour onboard aircraft, particularly toward crew members. These incidents pose a safety and security threat.’’
In January, the Federal Aviation Administration announced a “zero-tolerance’’ policy toward passengers who cause disturbances aboard aircraft or violate federal rules by refusing to follow flight crew instructions.
Since then, the FAA has received more than 3,000 reports of unruly behavior and opened 465 investigations into assaults, threats of violence or interference with air crews.
Many cases involved passengers who refused to wear masks aboard aircraft during the coronavirus pandemic.
'More should be done to deter egregious behavior'
Through May, the FAA has sought some kind of enforcement action more than 400 times this year and pursued 57 civil penalties.
So far, it has announced $368,000 in fines on 21 passengers.
In May, the Transport Workers Union of America, which represents Southwest flight attendants and was among the signers, said in a letter there were 477 passenger misconduct incidents on Southwest Airlines from April 8 to May 15.
"This past weekend, one of our Flight Attendants was seriously assaulted, resulting in injuries to the face and a loss of two teeth," the union wrote in a May 24 letter to Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly. "Today’s traveling environment requires a new level of firmness in both tone and direction to ensure proper control in the cabin."
On June 11, two passengers on a United flight were removed from a plane before it left San Francisco for fighting over an arm rest, according to the airline and fellow passengers.
Noting that federal law calls for up to 20 years imprisonment for passengers who intimidate or interfere with crew members, the letter urged “that more be done to deter egregious behavior, which is in violation of federal law and crew member instruction .. the federal government should send a strong and consistent message through criminal enforcement that compliance with federal law and upholding aviation safety are of paramount importance.’’
The Justice Department confirmed that it had received the letter but declined to comment.