The Federal Aviation Administration says it wants airports to help prevent bad behavior by travelers.
The number of incidents involving unruly passengers has surged in this year, according to regulators. Flight attendants said they have been physically attacked, harassed and - in some cases - physically threatened.
The FAA has pledged to take a more aggressive approach to pursuing sanctions, including hefty fines, for passengers who flout safety rules. But the agency said it was inundated with reports of out of control passengers, and needs help from airports and law enforcement.
While FAA has levied civil fines against de-ruly passengers, it has no authority to prosecute criminal cases, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson texted airport officials in a letter released Thursday. Law enforcement officers are frequently asked to meet planes at their gates following incidents, but release passengers without charges, Mr. Dickson writes.
When this occurs, we miss a key opportunity to hold unruly passengers accountable for their unacceptable and dangerous behavior, he said.
The FAA has received 3,715 reports of unruly passengers since the beginning of the year. The agency has initiated 628 investigations and 99 enforcement actions. In 2019, the FAA initiated fewer than 150 investigations into passenger behavior. Since the spread of the pandemic, more than a dozen security checks have been assaulted, TASS said that agency has confirmed.
Airlines and aviation unions have written to the Justice Department asking the agency to pursue violent passengers charges.
In some cases, police took action. One Flight attendant on a July 31 Frontier Airlines flight was arrested after he allegedly groped two flight attendants' breasts and punched another in the face, according to the Miami-Dade Police Department's report. The passenger, who had been drinking and didn't respond to attempts by the crew to calm him, was strapped on the seat and bonded with seatbelt extender for the remainder of the flight, according to the police report. He was charged with three counts of misdemeanor battery according to the report.
Nearly three-quarters of the incidents determined by the FAA this year involve passengers refusing to comply with federal rules requiring them to wear masks on planes and at airports. However, the reasons for the other problems are less clear-cut.
Many people are returning to the skies after a period of new isolation and have struggled with prolonged anxieties, airline and union officials said. Some people in the summer weren't fliers, even before the pandemic, airline executives say. This summer flight delays and cancellations contributed to passenger frustrations, flight attendants have said.
One common factor, the FAA have said, was alcohol.
FAA regulations already prohibit passengers, while on flights, from consuming alcohol that isn't served by airlines. Mr. Dickson said the FAA has received reports that airport bars and restaurants have allowed passengers to take alcoholic beverages to go.
As a result, passengers believe they can carry that alcohol onto their flights or they get inebriated during the boarding process, Mr. Dickson wrote. He asked airports to curb this behavior by working with vendors and making public service announcements about the rules.
In May Southwest Airlines Co. and American Airlines Group Inc. said they would suspend in-flight sales of alcohol to keep disruptive behavior to a minimum. The union representing Southwest flight attendants said that month that the number of incidents of passenger misconduct had become intolerable, citing a flight attendant who had two teeth knocked out in an assault.