FAA administrator Steve Dickson has issued a warning to flyers in the aftermath of unruly incidents involving supporters of President Trump as they traveled to and from Washington last week.
"The FAA monitors and tracks all commercial passenger flights in real time, and reporting mechanisms are in place for crew members to identify any number of safety and security concerns that may arise in flight," Dickson said in a statement issued over the weekend, as fallout continued over the Jan. 6 attack by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol. "This includes unruly passenger behavior, which can distract, disrupt and threaten crewmembers' ability to conduct their key safety functions. The FAA will pursue strong enforcement action against anyone who endangers the safety of a flight, with penalties ranging from monetary fines to jail time."
Airlines, flights attendants' unions and social media postings documented tension-filled episodes last week involving Trump supporters heading to and returning from what became the deadly riot on the Capitol.
For example, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), which represents American Airlines flight attendants, reported that on one flight from the Washington area a group of passengers removed their masks after takeoff and harassed flight attendants and other passengers until deplaning.
Similarly, disruptive behavior on a Jan. 7 flight from Washington Dulles to Seattle, including harassment of crew members and refusal to comply with mask rules, led Alaska Airlines to announce that at least 14 passengers could be placed on its flight ban list.
Incidents occurred on the ground, as well. APFA said that on Jan. 8 a Black flight attendant endured racial epithets while riding to Washington's Reagan National Airport in a hotel shuttle. Video also showed Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a longtime Trump ally, being harangued as a traitor by Trump supporters at Reagan Airport Friday after voting to certify the election of President-elect Joe Biden.
Fallout from these actions could follow.
Rep. Bennie Thomson (D-Miss.), who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, asked the TSA and FBI late last week to add any individuals identified in the attack on the Capitol to the no-fly list.
And concern is building that such incidents might recur should Trump supporters descend upon Washington for next week's inauguration of Biden.
Flight attendant unions, including APFA, have begun lobbying for enhanced regulations that would make it easier to keep people who are displaying abusive behavior from boarding planes.
Related: Airlines, unions look to safeguard flight crews after D.C. chaos
"To say I am worried about our flight attendants' safety is an understatement," APFA president Julie Hedrick said.
The FAA noted in a statement that it has initiated more than 1,300 enforcement actions against unruly passengers during the past 10 years. Passengers who interfere with, physically assault or threaten to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft face stiff penalties including fines of up to $35,000 and imprisonment.