TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As a result of stricter policies for misbehaving passengers by the Federal Aviation Administration, the number of investigations into unruly passengers has increased fivefold.
The FAA announced on Nov. 4 that they’d be “referring the most egregious cases to the FBI for federal criminal prosecution consideration.”
From January to December 2020, the FAA only investigated 183 reported unruly passenger incidents.
In 2021 so far, they’ve opened 950 investigations, with five times more investigations opened than the previous year.
Starting in January, amid travel restrictions due to COVID-19, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order that made stricter compliance policies for passengers after a series of “troubling incidents.” The current policy is a zero-tolerance initiative for unruly passengers.
While counseling or warning notices are sometimes a solution for violations, the current policy does not allow for addressing cases with either of those options, according to the FAA.
Passengers who violate compliance rules or are investigated for unruly behavior could face a nearly $40,000 fine. The previous penalty limit was $25,000 but it has since been increased to $37,000 per violation by the FAA’s Reauthorization Bill.
A single incident can result in multiple violations, meaning that passengers could see even larger penalties, including potential criminal charges. The Transportation Security Administration will handle security violations, which are excluded from unruly passenger cases, according to the FAA.
On an FAA site for unruly passenger information, the agency said there have been 5,033 unruly passenger reports in 2021 alone, as of Nov. 2. The FAA also said there have been 3,642 mask-related incidents reported. It did not clarify if the number of reports were included in the unruly passenger cases, or were a separate statistic.
Data from the FAA shows that the rate of unruly passenger incidents has decreased by about 50 percent since record highs reported in the beginning of 2021. Still, the FAA says “there remains more work to do.” While 950 investigations have started into incidents reported, there have been 227 enforcement cases initiated.
The FAA site also warns flyers that interfering with the duties of a crewmember on a flight is a violation of federal law.