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FAA refers more than 20 unruly passenger cases to FBI for prosecution

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it has referred 22 more unruly passenger cases to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), bringing the total number of cases to 39 this year.

The 22 cases spanned from December 2021 to April 2023 and include incidents involving alleged physical assault of other passengers, erratic behavior, sexual assault or misconduct towards passengers or flight attendants, a bomb threat, and terroristic threats. 

“Unruly behavior poses serious safety concerns for passengers and crew alike, which is why we are addressing this issue aggressively,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement Tuesday. 

The referrals are through an ongoing partnership between the FAA and FBI aiming to ensure unruly airline passengers face criminal prosecution when warranted. Since late 2021, the FAA said it has referred over 270 of the most serious cases to the FBI. 

The FAA said the rate of unruly passenger incidents has dropped by over 80 percent since the record-high set in early 2021, when the FAA received a total of 5,973 reports of unruly passengers amid COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Following this spike, Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the Department of Justice to prioritize the prosecution of unruly passengers on commercial aircrafts. 

Since March of 2021, the number of reports have continued to drop, FAA data showed. The agency received a total of 2,455 unruly passenger reports in 2022 and has 1,177 reports in 2023 as of Aug. 6, 2023. 

Buttigieg said those who “act out,” on an airplane can face criminal prosecution and fines up to $37,000 per violation. 

In April of 2022, the FAA proposed record fines on two passengers for alleged unruly behavior. The agency proposed a $82,000 fine against one passenger accused of threatening a flight attendant during an American Airlines flight in 2021 and a $77,272 against a second passenger who allegedly tried to embrace another passenger during a Delta Air Lines flight in July 2021. 


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