DOJ Addresses Rise In Criminal Conduct On Flights This Holiday Season

November 26, 2021

By a Biometrica staffer

Millions are set to travel across the nation, and the world, on board commercial aircrafts this holiday season. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is concerned that it could also bring about a rise in criminal behavior occurring on flights that endangers the safety of everyone from the passengers to flight crews and flight attendants.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland directed U.S. Attorneys to prioritize prosecution of federal crimes occurring on commercial aircraft. Federal law prohibits assaults, intimidation and threats of violence that interfere with flight crews and flight attendants, as well as other enumerated criminal acts that occur during flight.

“Passengers who assault, intimidate or threaten violence against flight crews and flight attendants do more than harm those employees; they prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel. Similarly, when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the close confines of a commercial aircraft, the conduct endangers everyone aboard,” Garland said.

To help ensure that the DOJ is notified about criminal conduct occurring on commercial aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department have created an information-sharing protocol. This protocol has already resulted in the referral of dozens of incidents by the FAA to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

“The Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FAA, as well as state, local, Tribal, and territorial prosecutorial authorities and law enforcement agencies, all have roles to play in protecting passengers, flight crews, and flight attendants,” the Attorney General added.

Just earlier this week, the FAA proposed $161,823 in civil penalties against eight airline passengers for alleged unruly behavior involving alcohol. Since Jan. 1, 2021, the FAA has received nearly 300 reports of passenger disturbances due to alcohol and intoxication, it said in a statement then. 

Federal law prohibits passengers from consuming alcohol aboard a flight that is not served by a flight attendant. In August, the FAA administrator sent a letter to airports requesting that they work to prevent passengers from bringing “to-go” cups of alcohol aboard the aircraft. 

Similarly, on Nov. 10, the FAA proposed $225,287 in civil penalties against 10 airline passengers for alleged unruly behavior involving physical assault. Since Jan. 1, 2021, the FAA has received more than 100 reports of passenger disturbances involving physical assault, it said in a statement on Nov. 10. Federal law prohibits passengers from assaulting fellow passengers or crew aboard a flight. 

On Jan. 13, 2021, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order directing a stricter legal enforcement policy against unruly airline passengers in the wake of a spike in troubling incidents. In August, unruly passenger-related civil penalties proposed by the FAA crossed $1 million in total. The rate of unruly passenger incidents hit record highs in early 2021. It has dropped about 50% since then, but still remains too high per the FAA.