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The FAA Wants Further Action Taken Against Unruly Passengers

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has asked US-based airlines to do more to combat unruly passenger behavior. The FAA made the request at a meeting on Tuesday with airline industry stakeholders.

The FAA wants airlines to do more to stamp out unruly passenger behavior. Photo: Getty Images

The FAA thinks airlines should do more to counter bad passenger behavior

According to the FAA, there have been 4,385 incidents of unruly passenger behavior this year. Nearly 73% of those incidents were face-mask-related. The FAA has investigated 789 incidents and commenced enforcement action in 162 cases in the year to September 21.

In the first of three meetings between the FAA and airline industry stakeholders, the US government agency met with industry groups including Airlines for America, the Regional Airline Association, the National Air Carrier Association, and several airlines on Tuesday.

The FAA said it believes airlines and other industry stakeholders could do more to stamp out bad passenger behavior.

Since January, the FAA has cracked down on unruly passenger behaviour, adopting a zero-tolerance policy. The upswing in bad behaviour is primarily attributed to face-mask-wearing requirements in airport terminals and on aircraft.

A mandate on face-masks in airports and airlines is blamed for the rise in bad passenger behavior. Getty Images

Is it up to frontline airline & airport employees to monitor bad passenger behavior?

The call-out for airlines to do more may go down poorly with airline industry frontline employees who typically bear the brunt of bad passenger behaviour. Unions for groups such as flight attendants and gate agents have long highlighted this problem.

Before the travel downturn, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (AFPA) highlighted the trend of squeezing more passengers onto planes. The industry group believes the decreasing levels of personal inflight space is linked to the rise in unruly behavior. Also relevant is an increasing willingness to report bad behavior.

“As a flight attendant, it’s really hard to imagine yourself being in a position that requires duct-taping a passenger to their seats for the safety of everyone else on the plane, yet this is something that has happened numerous times in the last few months.” American Airlines flight attendant and government affairs representative at APFA Allie Malis recently told CNN Travel.

To date, the onus is generally on airline frontline workers to report incidents of bad behavior. The report makes its way up the chain to the FAA, with the worst cases making the news.

Flight attendants bear the brunt of bad passenger behavior. Photo: American Airlines

irline industry groups have long called for crackdowns on bad passenger behavior

While the FAA regularly highlights proposed penalties against unruly passengers, only a fraction of the overall incidents are investigated. Even fewer result in penalties.

“Flight Attendant Unions across carriers have continued to pressure the FAA, DOT, and local elected Government Representatives to ensure that anyone who would assault a flight attendant is dealt with swiftly. Over the past two years, we have seen fines levied, often without urgency,” says the AFPA.  ”

“We are experiencing verbal assaults daily and physical assaults with a frequency never before seen in the airline industry. Flight Attendant advocacy on this issue has moved the Biden Administration and the FAA not only to increase penalties for those who commit assaults but to ensure they are processed more expeditiously.”

Equally, industry groups that represent broader airline interests have called for tougher penalties on unruly passengers. In a well publicized letter in June to US Attorney General Merrick Garland, a consortium of nine airline industry groups called for harsher penalties for unruly passengers, including criminal sanctions.

Instead of throwing policing and reporting roles onto flight attendants and airport ground employees, airline employees and industry groups might reasonably argue it is up to government agencies, including the FAA and law enforcement agencies, to step up and do more to combat bad passenger behavior.