FAA makes zero-tolerance policy against unruly passengers permanent

Photo (c) Thana Prasongsin - Getty Images

The agency is working with the TSA and FBI to add even more sting to its policy

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it has seen enough bad behavior over the last couple of years that it’s going to make its Zero Tolerance policy against unruly passengers permanent. 

While the agency's Zero Tolerance policy has helped reduce incident rates by more than 60%, the FAA feels it still has a long way to go. Officials say they will issue a fine of up to $37,000 to anyone who crosses the policy's lines going forward. In the past, the FAA tried to deal with unruly passengers by issuing warning letters or requiring counseling, but those attempts apparently weren’t taken seriously and are no longer part of the FAA’s disciplining procedures. Previously, the maximum civil penalty per violation was $25,000. 

“Behaving dangerously on a plane will cost you; that’s a promise,” said Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen. “Unsafe behavior simply does not fly and keeping our Zero Tolerance policy will help us continue making progress to prevent and punish this behavior.” 

Unruly passengers might be looking at even tougher penalties soon. Legislation that could permanently ban a traveler from flying ever again was recently introduced in Congress.

What passengers shouldn't do

The FAA wants it made clear that there are certain lines under its updated policy that travelers should never cross. Here are two big points that travelers should keep in mind:

Travelers who interfere with the duties of a crewmember are violating federal law. By “interfering,” the agency means assault, intimidation, or threats made to anyone involved with the plane’s operation.

A $37,000 fine will be assessed for each violation. If a passenger crosses the line in several different ways, they could be hit with multiple fines.

If it had the power to do so, the FAA might have taken even tougher action. However, the agency only has civil authority to impose fines and does not have criminal prosecutorial authority.

Nonetheless, officials say they're trying to add in a little more sting. For one thing, the FAA is now working with the Transportation Safety Authority (TSA) to revoke TSA PreCheck for unruly passengers that it fines. As of Feb. 16, 2022, it had referred 80 unruly passenger cases to the FBI for criminal review

Some airlines revoke bans for mask violations

Despite the TSA fining 922 people for violating mask mandates and issuing 2,709 warnings between Feb. 2, 2021, and March 7, 2022, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have decided that they will let some passengers banned for mask violations back on their flights.

"At Delta, nothing is more important than the safety and security of our customers and our people. 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," the airline said in a statement.

As for United, it said it's taking things on a case-by-case basis.

"We will allow some customers who were previously banned for failing to comply with mask-related rules to fly United again -- after ensuring their commitment to follow all crewmember instructions on board," the airline said in a statement.

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