As things slowly return to a greater sense of normal following the recent global health and safety concerns, more people are traveling, whether resuming their weekly grocery shopping, heading out to a restaurant or taking a much needed vacation. Accordingly, modes of public transportation are seeing an increase in use, including airlines. While safety has always been a concern for airlines, more recently, flight crews are pointing to passengers as posing the most immediate risk of danger, and these unruly passengers may face federal charges.
The Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration handle safety and security incidents that occur onboard airlines. These agencies become involved only if the crew reports an incident. Once either of these agencies takes the case, it becomes a matter of federal law with the potential for serious consequences. More than 70% of recent disturbances involve escalated altercations over facemask policies. These incidents can include:
- Assaulting another passenger or a crew member
- Making threats against someone on the plane
- Using intimidation against a passenger or crew member
- Behaving in any way that interferes with a crew member’s duties
If the FAA concludes a passenger has violated safety laws during a flight, it has the authority to impose a warning, mandate counseling for the passengers involved, or dismiss the case, especially if there is not enough evidence to prove a violation occurred. However, if the FAA closes a case, penalties for creating a disturbance on an airline can include administrative fines as high as $37,000 per violation and may also result in federal charges. The FAA’s new zero-tolerance policy means that it is more likely they will carry an incident to prosecution.