Airlines urge attorney general to make example of unruliest passengers

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Airlines and airline unions said initiating criminal prosecutions would "fulfill Congress's intent to make safety the highest priority in air commerce." Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Airlines and airline unions have asked U.S. attorney general Merrick Garland to begin criminally prosecuting the most egregious cases of passengers' unruly behavior.

"Specifically, the federal government should send a strong and consistent message through criminal enforcement that compliance with federal law and upholding aviation safety are of paramount importance," wrote the group of six unions and four trade organizations in a letter to Garland on June 21.

The FAA has spoken out repeatedly about a spike in unruly passengers this year. In mid-June, the agency said it had received approximately 3,000 reports of unruly behavior by passengers, including about 2,300 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal facemask mandate. 

Of those reports, the agency had identified potential violations in 465 cases and had initiated civil enforcement action seeking fines in 57 cases. 

In their letter, the airline unions and trade groups praised the FAA for those civil enforcements and for its public outreach about the surge in unruly behavior aboard commercial flights, but said more can be done. Citing specific federal statutes that allow for imprisonment, they said initiating criminal prosecutions would "fulfill Congress's intent to make safety the highest priority in air commerce."

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"Making these prosecutions public will put a spotlight on the serious consequences when breaking the law and will act as an effective deterrent against future onboard disruptions," the letter reads.

The letter's signatories are the trade groups Airlines for America, which represents major U.S. carriers; the Regional Airline Association; and the National Air Carrier Association, which represents ultralow-cost carriers.

Union signatories are the Air Line Pilots Association, Allied Pilots Association, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, Association of Professional Flight Attendants, Southwest Airlines Pilots Association and Transport Workers Union of America. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants coalition, which lobbies on behalf of flight attendant unions, is the other signatory. 

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