On November 24, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland asked US attorneys to prioritize prosecuting unruly airline passengers who violate federal law at the start of the holiday season.
“Passengers who attack, intimidate, or threaten with violence against flight crews and flight attendants do more than harm to these employees; they interfere with critical responsibilities that help ensure safe air travel, ”Garland said in a statement released by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“Likewise, when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the vicinity of a commercial aircraft, this behavior endangers everyone on board,” he added.
Although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not have the authority to prosecute unruly passengers, the FFA has developed an “information exchange protocol” with the Department of Justice to ensure that the department is notified of criminal activity aboard commercial aircraft.
The Justice Department said the FAA has already sent “dozens of incidents” to the FBI to investigate.
“The Justice Department is committed to using its resources to do its part to prevent violence, intimidation, threats of violence and other criminal behavior that jeopardizes the safety of passengers, flight crews and flight attendants on commercial aircraft,” Garland said.
According to the FAA, unruly passengers are those who violate one or more FAA rules or federal laws, one of which states that “No one can attack, threaten, intimidate or interfere with a crew member in the performance of their duties on board an aircraft. operated. “
As of November 23 this year, the FAA has reported 3,856 mask-related incidents and 5,338 unruly passenger reports.
On January 13, the Federal Aviation Administration announced a special program to protect the rights of passengers not wearing masks on board.
Shortly thereafter, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order making masks mandatory for travelers on commercial aircraft, and on January 31, the order was enforced by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
The FAA’s special enforcement program ensures that “civil sanctions will be instituted against passengers who attack, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crew member’s duties as a crew member in violation of FAA rules or who engage in conduct prohibited under 49 USC. § 46318 regardless of culpability, ”the ruling says.
While “a passenger’s refusal to wear a mask on board an aircraft is not in itself a violation of FAA rules,” the order stated that “non-disguise behavior” “would violate FAA rules” and “would be subject to civilian rules. fine “.
Unruly passengers face fines of up to $ 37,000 for violation.