Washington lawmaker calls on FAA to address ‘disgusting’ behavior from unruly airline passengers

Sep 23, 2021, 1:56 PM | Updated: Sep 24, 2021, 6:34 am
Unruly passengers...
A masked passenger is seen seated on a flight from San Francisco, California to Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Washington Rep. Rick Larsen led a hearing in the U.S. House Aviation Subcommittee on Thursday to address ongoing issues related to unruly airline passengers.

Flight evacuates after landing at Sea-Tac due to cell phone fire

Rep. Larsen — who chairs the aviation subcommittee — says bad behavior on airplanes has skyrocketed in the wake of the pandemic, and that airlines, Congress, and federal regulators need to do more.

There have been nearly 4,300 unruly passenger complaints from airlines so far this year, roughly two-thirds of which have been related to mask requirements on airplanes.

“Aviation workers have to deal with everything from vulgar language, including racial epithets, to punching, kicking, biting, and spitting from passengers,” Larsen said during Thursday’s hearing. “It is disgusting, it is unacceptable, and it is a danger to fellow passengers, to crew, and the entire U.S. aviation system.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has initiated 798 total investigations into unruly passengers this year, more than the last six years combined.

The FAA instituted a “zero tolerance” policy at the start of 2021, enacting more stringent enforcement measures for airline passengers exhibiting disruptive or abusive behavior. In the past, the department has addressed that behavior by “using a variety of methods ranging from warnings and counseling to civil penalties.” After a string of troubling incidents, the decision was made to instead “pursue legal enforcement action,” as well as heftier financial penalties.

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As of mid-August, the FAA had handed out a combined $1 million in civil penalties to unruly passengers, while urging airports to “coordinate more closely with local law enforcement to prosecute egregious cases.”

Despite those measures leading to an overall decrease in incidents in recent months, flight attendants and other aviation workers testifying in Thursday’s hearing noted that instances of unruly passengers remain an ever-present issue.

That includes a JetBlue flight out of New York last October that made an emergency landing after a passenger was said to have thrown his luggage at other passengers, grabbed a flight attendant by the ankles, and put his head up her skirt.

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Washington lawmaker calls on FAA to address ‘disgusting’ behavior from unruly airline passengers