FAA urges prosecution for unruly passengers, end of ‘to-go’ liquor sales

Passengers are seen in silhouette with a plane and passenger boarding bridge in the background.
Travelers board a flight at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in Maryland.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

Responding to a continued surge in unruly and hostile behavior on planes, the Federal Aviation Administration is urging airport concessionaires to stop selling liquor in to-go containers to passengers and calling on police to prosecute more fliers who cause onboard trouble.

In one of the most high-profile onboard incidents to date, a 22-year-old man flying from Philadelphia to Miami on Frontier Airlines was duct-taped to his seat by flight attendants Saturday after he allegedly groped two flight attendants and punched another in the head.

Miami-Dade police charged the man, identified as Maxwell Wilkinson Berry, with three misdemeanor counts of battery, according to news reports. The Miami Herald reported that Berry had been drinking.

Berry purchased his alcohol on the plane, according to the Associated Press. But there are also other ways travelers can get alcohol.

“We have received reports that some airport concessionaires have offered alcohol ‘to go’ and passengers believe they can carry that alcohol onto their flights or they become inebriated during the boarding process,” according to a letter Tuesday from FAA chief Steve Dickson to airport administrators across the country.

He suggested airports show FAA videos in passenger lounges that remind fliers about the rules against unruly behavior and flying while drunk.


Unruly passengers continue to be a problem, according to a survey of flight attendants.

July 29, 2021

The surge in unruly and violent behavior has been attributed by flight attendants union leaders primarily to frustration over the passenger mask mandate and excessive alcohol consumption, despite the nation’s two largest carriers, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, temporarily halting all alcohol sales.

So far this year, airlines have reported 3,715 incidents of unruly passenger behavior, with 2,729 of those cases attributed to the mask mandate, according to the FAA. Of those cases, 628 have been investigated by the FAA for possible civil penalties against the violators. In 2019, only 146 cases were investigated by the FAA.

The rising trend prompted Dickson to issue a zero-tolerance order in January against unruly behavior. Instead of receiving warnings or being required to seek counseling, violators now face criminal prosecution or fines of as much as $35,000.

But in his letter to airport officials, Dickson urged local police agencies to prosecute violent or hostile passengers who are turned over by flight crews when the flights land.

“In some cases, flight attendants have reported being physically assaulted,” he said in the letter. “Nevertheless, many of these passengers were interviewed by local police and released without criminal charges of any kind.”

A survey of flight attendants released last month found that a vast majority of attendants said they had dealt with unruly passengers, and nearly 1 in 5 experienced a physical incident, including shoving, kicking of seats and harassment of flight crews at airports.

The Assn. of Flight Attendants-CWA conducted the survey of nearly 5,000 flight attendants at 30 airlines to pressure airlines and government officials to take stronger measures against passengers who verbally or physically abuse flight crews.

Airlines for America, a trade group for the nation’s air carriers, wrote a letter to the U.S. attorney general in July, expressing concern over the rising numbers of incidents and urging federal authorities to crack down on passengers who misbehave on planes.