(NewsNation Now) – The rate of unruly airline passenger incidents has dropped significantly since regulators moved to impose fines, the Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday.
Despite the sharp decline, incidents are still twice as high as last year, FAA data shows.
Unruly passenger incidents were occurring six times per 10,000 flights as of last week — a 50% drop from early 2021 when the agency first moved to a “zero-tolerance policy” against fliers lashing out, it said in a statement.
As of Sept. 21, there have been 4,385 reported unruly passenger incidents, including 3,199 mask-related ones, FAA data shows.
“The trend of unruly passenger incidents is moving in the right direction. But we need the progress to continue,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement. “This remains a serious safety threat, and one incident is one too many.’
The FAA specifically noted a “proliferation” of such conduct stemming from passengers’ refusal to wear masks, and “following the January 6, 2021 violence at the U.S. Capitol,” according to an order signed by Dickson.
“We will no longer adjudicate certain of these unruly passenger cases with counseling or warnings. We’re going to go straight to enforcement,” Dickson said in an interview with Reuters.
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, recognized the FAA’s fines but said the agency’s safety inspectors “who process these cases can’t continue at the current rate without some relief” and urged more cooperation between federal and state authorities as well as with the industry.
Defazio urged airports to do more to prevent passengers from bringing “to go” alcoholic drinks onboard airplanes.
“Even as we continue to fight a pandemic, the amount of disruption and violent behavior on planes has reached epidemic proportions,” DeFazio said.
It was early in September when the Transportation Security Administration announced that it increased the penalty for people who violate the mandate to wear masks on planes, trains and other forms of transportation to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
President Joe Biden warned that violators should “be prepared to pay.”
The Department of Homeland Security says the new fines will remain in effect until at least Jan. 18.
In August, the FAA levied an additional $531,545 in civil penalties, an amount that marks the FAA’s largest single proposal of fines against any group of passengers since the start of the “zero-tolerance” policy. The fines were levied against 34 passengers, one of whom was hit with $45,000 in proposed civil penalties alone.
That particular passenger, as described by the FAA, had forced an emergency landing of a JetBlue flight after allegedly throwing objects at other customers — including his own carry-on luggage — and lying in the aisle of the plane. He is also said to have grabbed one of the flight attendant’s ankles before “putting his head up her skirt.”
The agency has called on airlines to do more to address unruly passengers. Lawmakers have also launched hearings into the issue, with some Democrats calling on the Department of Justice to prosecute disruptive and violent air passengers.
Interfering with the duties of a crewmember violates federal law, the FAA stated, tweeting out: “Unruly passengers don’t fly.”
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Reuters, Nexstar Media Wire, Associated Press contributed to this report.