FAA to crack down on unruly airline passengers: ‘First strike and you’re out’

A United Airlines Boeing 737 Max airplane takes off in 2019.
Airline passengers who disrupt flights “with threatening or violent behavior” won’t get warnings anymore, the FAA says. It plans to launch legal enforcement actions, with fines of up to to $35,000 and jail terms.
(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Federal safety officials said Wednesday that they’re stepping up enforcement against unruly airline passengers after confrontations took place on flights to and from Washington in the days before and after last week’s pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The Federal Aviation Administration said there has been “a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior. These incidents have stemmed both from passengers’ refusals to wear masks and from recent violence at the U.S. Capitol.”

The FAA said that under an order signed by Administrator Stephen Dickson, unruly passengers will no longer get warnings. Instead, the agency said it will launch legal enforcement actions. Penalties can include fines up to $35,000 and jail terms for passengers who assault or threaten airline crews or other passengers.


The new policy took effect immediately and is to continue through March 30.

It won quick praise from the head of the largest U.S. flight attendants’ union.

“First strike and you’re out. We applaud FAA Administrator Dickson for taking this clear stand for our safety and security,” Sara Nelson, president of the Assn. of Flight Attendants, said in a statement.

The FAA said it has pursued more than 1,300 enforcement actions against passengers in the last 10 years. It did not immediately provide a count of recent cases, some of which involve passengers who assaulted flight attendants who told them to wear a face covering during the pandemic.

Videos of several recent incidents have been shared widely on social media; some show people who were removed from planes for refusing to wear masks. The FAA has resisted calls for a federal mask rule, but all leading U.S. airlines require passengers to wear them with exceptions generally made only for children under 2.

Some lawmakers and airline union officials have demanded that people who took part in the riot at the Capitol be placed on the federal no-fly list. The FAA said it does not have authority over that list but works with law enforcement agencies on security threats.

The nation’s largest flight attendants union calls on airlines to ban D.C. riot participants from taking airline flights out of the Washington area.

Jan. 7, 2021