FAA: Zero-Tolerance Unruly Passengers Policy Now Permanent

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is making permanent its zero-tolerance policy against unruly air passengers, the agency announced Wednesday. 

“Behaving dangerously on a plane will cost you; that’s a promise,” acting FAA administrator Billy Nolen said in a statement. 

The FAA implemented the policy on Jan. 13, 2021, after what it called a significant increase in unruly passenger incidents. Under the policy, the FAA issues fines to passengers for unruly behavior instead of warning letters or referrals for counseling, according to the agency. 

Most passengers reported to the FAA since the implementation were for violation of the recently struck down federal mask mandate, a decision being appealed by the U.S. Department of Justice. However, in February, the FAA referred 80 unruly passenger cases to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The agency also is working with the Transportation Security Administration to revoke TSA PreCheck from passengers who are fined by the FAA. Earlier this month, the FAA proposed the largest-ever fines against two passengers for alleged unruly behavior, in the amounts of $81,950 and $77,272.

The three largest U.S. airlines, however, this week said that they will allow back onboard some passengers who were placed on internal no-fly lists for noncompliance with the mask mandate. This includes Delta Air Lines, whose CEO Ed Bastian had led a charge for a federal no-fly list for unruly passengers. 

“With masks now optional, Delta will restore flight privileges for customers on the mask non-compliance no-fly list only after each case is reviewed and each customer demonstrates an understanding of their expected behavior when flying with us,” Delta said in a statement. “Any further disregard for the policies that keep us all safe will result in placement on Delta’s permanent no-fly list. Customers who demonstrated egregious behavior are already on the permanent no-fly list remain barred from flying with Delta.”

American Airlines said it appreciated the FAA announcement, yet also will let some affected passengers back on its flights. “We’re very grateful to our partners and the Federal government who have prioritized the safety of our crews, both our ground crews and our crews in the air, during this period,” American chief government affairs officer Nate Gatten said Thursday during the company’s first-quarter earnings call.

However, Gatten added that “in most cases, the passengers who were added to our internal refuse list as a result of mask noncompliance will be permitted to resume travel at some point in time. In cases where an incident may have started with a face mask noncompliance and escalated into anything involving something more serious or certainly an assault on one of our key members or customers, those passengers are going to remain on our permanent internal refuse list and will never be allowed to travel with us again.”

United Airlines offered a similar outlook. “Those who have been banned during this time period, it’s for a range of behavior, and some are relatively straightforward,” United president Brett Hart said Thursday during United’s first-quarter earnings call. “But there are those whose behavior went beyond just a general refusal to wear the mask. We will evaluate that behavior, and if [it] presented a risk to our team members or to other customers, then those are individuals who it is less likely that we will welcome back to our airline. We’re going to take a very thoughtful approach to evaluating this, and we’ll be getting in touch with individuals who have been banned as time passes.” 

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