The Justice Department announced on Wednesday afternoon that it is going to prioritize the prosecution of passengers who assaulted airline crew members. Attorney General Merrick Garland said that he told US attorneys to go after passengers who committed crimes against flight crew members. This includes threats, intimidation, and even assault.
Garland said in a letter that passengers who harm airline employees not only violate federal law but also “prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel”. He added that “Similarly, when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the close confines of a commercial aircraft, the conduct endangers everyone aboard”.
Even with the FAA’s zero-tolerance policy, airlines encountered a record number of unruly passengers. Unions for flight crew asked the Biden administration to do more to penalize passengers for their unruly and violent behaviors.
Earlier this month, the FAA referred 37 cases to the DOJ. However, an FAA spokesperson said on Wednesday that it hasn’t submitted additional cases since.
FAA administrator Steve Dickson said that “The unacceptable disruptive behavior that we’re seeing is a serious safety threat to flights”. He also added that the agency is committed with its partnership with the DOJ to fight such occurrences.
Cases Submitted to the FBI for Criminal Case Review
The FAA and the Justice Department share information regarding unruly passengers. And then, the FAA refers some cases to the FBI for a criminal case review.
This coordination is a result of a joint meeting in August. The agencies discussed ways on how to best pass along serious cases for potential criminal prosecution.
On the part of the FAA, the agency can propose civil penalties up to $37,000 per violation. However, the FAA doesn’t have the authority to prosecute passengers for unruly behavior.
According to the latest numbers, the FAA recorded 5,338 cases of unruly passengers. 3,856 cases were related to the wearing of masks.
No Fly List
Aside from criminal prosecutions, there were calls for having a centralized no-fly list for unruly passengers. House Transportation Chair Peter DeFazio supports the idea of a “common database” of banned passengers. However, this idea can get complicated since airlines will need to share information.