The Federal Aviation Administration is taking action against what it calls a “disruptive increase” in threatening or violent behavior by air passengers and has a zero tolerance policy against disruptive behavior by March. The move is in response to last week’s attack on the Capitol and the prolonged problem of passengers refusing to wear masks.
According to a new order signed by its boss Steve Dickson on Wednesday, the FAA plans to take legal action against passengers who assault, threaten, intimidate or disturb crew members. This could include fines of up to $ 35,000 and referral for prosecution. The agency was previously empowered to impose fines and refer individuals for law enforcement, but issued warnings before going that far. Now, as a first step, no more warnings are issued.
“Flying is the safest mode of transportation and I signed this order to keep it that way,” Dickson said in a statement.
The policy change comes after airlines, flight attendant unions and passengers reported disruptive and threatening behavior by supporters of President Trump on social media on flights to and from Washington and at airports. Reports of such behavior began before the January 6 attack on the Capitol and have continued ever since.
“We applaud FAA Administrator Dickson for his clear commitment to our safety,” said Sara Nelson, director of the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at multiple airlines, including United Airlines. “This will help deter unruly passengers who have broken flight safety rules.”
According to the union representing the airline’s flight attendants, a Black American Airlines flight attendant was exposed to “racial nicknames” on Thursday in a hotel shuttle in Washington. On Friday, Alaska Airlines banned 14 passengers from future flights and described their behavior on a flight from Washington to Seattle as “noisy, argumentative” and harassing. Several other airlines have also reported banning passengers from future flights in the past few days. In two widespread episodes, Trump supporters also molested two Republican senators, Mitt Romney from Utah and Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, on their travels to and from Washington.
American said Wednesday it is taking steps to ensure the safety of its crews and customers ahead of the president’s inauguration next week. These include stopping alcohol on flights to and from Washington Saturday through Thursday, moving crew members from hotels in downtown Washington to hotels near the airport, providing private transportation between hotels and airports, and increasing airport staff.
In the past few months, U.S. airlines have banned hundreds of people from turning down the face masks, and some have now added unruly Trump supporters to that group of banned customers. Passenger bans are independent of the federal “no-fly list” maintained by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center. The FAA has no authority over this list, although it and the airlines have stated that they are working closely with federal law enforcement agencies on security threats that could affect flight safety.
Some lawmakers have asked the federal government to put people who have violated the Capitol on the no-fly list. But the Civil Liberties Group has criticized the list and how it is being handled as unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have long sought major reforms in the use of the list and the government’s ability to ban people from flying.