FAA referred 37 'unruly' passengers to FBI for criminal review


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Thursday that it has referred dozens of passengers to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution. 

Airlines have seen a sharp rise in violent incidents, not just between passengers but with some passengers attacking airline staff as well. Most recently, authorities on Monday arrested a California man and charged him in the assault of an American Airlines flight attendant. 

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The number of incidents pushed the FAA to adopt a “zero tolerance” approach and better coordinate with the Justice Department to prosecute cases. An FAA spokesman said the agency has initiated 227 cases from more than 5,000 incidents of “unruly passengers.” 

A man is detained after an alleged attack on an American Airlines flight attendant last week. A California man has been charged in the attack on an American Airlines flight crew member, the Justice Department said Monday.  (@m6225r)

A man is detained after an alleged attack on an American Airlines flight attendant last week. A California man has been charged in the attack on an American Airlines flight crew member, the Justice Department said Monday.  (@m6225r)

The agency has forwarded around 37 of those cases to the FBI to investigate for possible criminal charges, Reuters reported. 

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“Let this serve both as a warning and a deterrent: If you disrupt a flight, you risk not just fines from the FAA but federal criminal prosecution as well,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson.

Merrick Garland testifies before the House Judiciary Committee (CSPAN)

Merrick Garland testifies before the House Judiciary Committee (CSPAN)
(CSPAN)

FBI acting Assistant Director Jay Greenberg said the agency is “working in tandem with our partners to ensure the safety of all passengers and investigate crimes within our jurisdiction aboard commercial flights.” 

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The bulk of “unruly passenger” incidents, as listed on the FAA website, have been related to pandemic face-covering regulations. 

A medical worker wearing personal protective equipment administers a rapid COVID-19 test to a traveler at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. United and Hawaiian Airlines are offering options for COVID-19 testing to passengers traveling to the state of Hawaii that will include at-home tests, drive-through testing, and in-person tests at the airport. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A medical worker wearing personal protective equipment administers a rapid COVID-19 test to a traveler at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. United and Hawaiian Airlines are offering options for COVID-19 testing to passengers traveling to the state of Hawaii that will include at-home tests, drive-through testing, and in-person tests at the airport. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Democratic lawmakers have pressed the Justice Department to prosecute these passengers, citing “concern” over “passenger rage” in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday. 

“It is well documented that our nation has witnessed a sharp increase in air and airport confrontational behavior, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” they added. “This has led to a dramatic increase in unruly and disruptive passenger behavior onboard aircraft toward crewmembers and toward passenger service agents at airports.”

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Airlines over the summer sought assistance from the Justice Department, asking the agency to help “deter egregious behavior,” specifically to “send a strong and consistent message through criminal enforcement and compliance with federal law,” according to The Washington Post. 

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