The US Federal Aviation Administration is adopting a stricter legal enforcement policy against unruly passengers after observing “a disturbing increase” in air travelers who refuse to wear masks on board aircraft, and in the wake of mob violence at the US Capitol.
Passengers who interfere with, physically assault, or threaten to physically assault aircraft crew members or other passengers face fines of up to $35,000 and imprisonment.
“Flying is the safest mode of transportation and I signed this order to keep it that way,” said FAA administrator Steve Dickson in a statement, after formally signing the order to bolster enforcement.
Following the 6 January storming of the US capitol by a mob of pro-Trump rioters, Representative Bennie Thompson, who chairs the House committee on Homeland Security, urged the Transportation Security Administration and Federal Bureau of Investigation to ensure that individuals involved in the domestic terrorist attack on the US Capitol are added to the No-Fly List.
But while viral videos showed passengers being removed from aircraft after the riot, the lion’s share of these incidents are understood to have stemmed from passengers’ refusal to wear masks, and do not necessarily indicate that new names have been added to the No-Fly List.
All US airlines made mask-wearing mandatory amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and many have taken it upon themselves to ban passengers who do not comply.
For its part, the FAA said it does not have regulatory authority over aviation security or No-Fly Lists, but that it works closely with federal law enforcement and national security partners on any reported security threats that may impact aviation safety.
Historically, the agency has addressed unruly passenger incidents using a variety of methods ranging from warnings and counseling to civil penalties. Effective immediately, however, the FAA will pursue legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crew members.