Airlines and unions have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute passengers who fail to behave onboard, going a step beyond the civil penalties that have not served as an adequate deterrent in the face of escalating disruptions onboard.
Airlines Want To Send Unruly Passengers To Jail
Live and Let’s Fly has addressed the root cause of airline misbehavior onboard. The statistics are clear enough, after all. The Federal Aviation Administration had received over 2,900 reports of unruly passenger behavior since January 1, 2021. Over 2,200 of those were mask-related incidents. That’s 76%.
Between 2010 and 2020, the FAA only investigated a total of 1,548 unruly passenger cases.
So clearly we can quantitatively state there has been a surge in cases in the pandemic era and the majority are tied to masks.
I would continue to argue that masks themselves are not the sole problem, but masks combined with a lack of service onboard, full flights, and restricted legroom combine to create a perfect storm which brings out the worst in the passengers.
I expect that once the mask mandate is lifted and onboard food and beverage for purchase is again widespread, we will see the number of cases drop significantly. With vaccine availability widespread in the United States, there is no good reason why masks should continue to be compulsory onboard.
But in the meantime, we must brace ourselves for a summer of discontent. And in preparation for the busy summer months, airlines have asked U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to start prosecuting cases in which passengers engage in violence board.
Letter to DOJ: Take Action Now
In a letter to the Department of Justice, airlines ask the DOJ to:
“[C]ommit to taking action, along with coordination with the FAA, to ensure that egregious onboard conduct is fully and criminally prosecuted, sending a strong public message of deterrence, safety and security.”
The letter was written by Airlines For America, the lobbying arm of the U.S. airline industry, which represents American, Delta, Southwest, and United (among others). It was also signed by unions representing pilots and flight attendants.
The problem, up to now, is that the proposed civil fines from the FAA are few and far between and exactly that: proposals. While thousands of incidents have occurred, less than 100 fines have been proposed and those “proposed” fines usually work out to be far less than what is initially stated.
Should the DOJ start jailing violent passengers? Yes, I think so. But I also think the far easier solution to the problem is to do away with the mask mandate.
Airlines and unions want the DOJ to start cracking down more harshly on those who are violent onboard. I agree. But the best way to reduce violence onboard is to end the mask requirement and restore basic services onboard.