Graeme Jennings / POOL / AFP via Getty Images
After several disruptive incidents and clashes on flights to and from Washington, DC last week, federal authorities are now cracking down on unruly airline passengers.
The head of the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday signed an order to enforce a “zero tolerance” policy against passengers who engage in threatening or disruptive behavior on commercial airline flights.
The FAA says there has been “a worrying increase in incidents where airline passengers disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior. These incidents are due to both the refusal of passengers to wear masks and the violence. recent at the United States Capitol “.
Several videos of President Trump supporters chanting, shouting and berating other passengers, including members of Congress, have gone viral. In one, on an American Airlines flight from Texas to Washington, DC, passengers yell at flight attendants as someone throws a pro-Trump image on the ceiling of the aircraft cabin. In another, Trump supporters heckling Utah Senator Mitt Romney with chants of “traitor”, on a flight from Salt Lake City to the nation’s capital.
Representative Mike Quigley, D-Ill., Told the Chicago Sun-Times that some passengers on his United flight back to Chicago last Thursday threatened violence.
“They were beyond abuse of flight attendants, crew … ‘one of the most abusive’ of ‘these idiots had to be held back. He was billing one of the flight attendants, “Quigley said.” I was scared for the life of the flight attendant. He called her a communist and then the c-word. “
As a result of these incidents, airports, airlines, TSA, DHS and other federal law enforcement agencies had stepped up security measures in anticipation of the possibility that more protesters would come to the city. Washington ahead of the inauguration of President-elect next week, Joe Biden.
The order from FAA administrator Stephen Dickson says the agency will no longer issue warnings to passengers refusing to wear masks or acting in a belligerent or threatening manner. Instead, the agency “will take legal action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates or interferes with airline crew members.” Penalties can include fines of up to $ 35,000 and jail time.
“The plane is the safest form of transportation and I signed this order to make it so,” Administrator Dickson said in a press release.
Airlines and their employees support stricter enforcement measures.
“First strike and you’re away,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said in a statement. “We commend FAA Administrator Dickson for taking this clear stand in favor of our safety. This will help deter unruly passengers who had broken air safety rules. We continue to work with our airlines, FAA, TSA and law enforcement to keep our skies safe. “
In a tweet, the industrial group Airlines to America said, “The safety and security of passengers and employees is the top priority of the US airline industry, and we welcome @FAANews’ order to implement a stricter policy regarding unruly passenger behavior . “
The order is a bit of a reversal for Dickson and the FAA, which since March have resisted calls from the industry and the airline workers’ union for a federal mandate to mask airplanes. This is not a mask warrant, but a strong crackdown on passengers who violate airlines’ own policies requiring passengers to wear masks or masks.