FAA extends zero-tolerance policy for unruly airline passengers as cases top 500

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Flight attendants show safety precautions on an American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX airplane before it takes off on a test flight from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, on December 2, 2020.
Juliette Michel | AFP | Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday said it would continue to crack down on unruly passengers, extending its zero-tolerance policy. Airlines have reported more than 500 cases since late December, according to the agency.

Most of those cases were related to travelers who refused to wear face masks, which both airlines and the federal government require for commercial air travel, the FAA said.

“I have decided to extend the FAA’s unruly-passenger zero-tolerance policy as we continue to do everything we can to confront the pandemic,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statemtn. “The policy directs our safety inspectors and attorneys to take strong enforcement action against any passenger who disrupts or threatens the safety of a flight, with penalties ranging from fines to jail time. The number of cases we’re seeing is still far too high, and it tells us urgent action continues to be required.”

Cases were on the rise on a per capita basis throughout 2020, according to federal data. Flight attendants’ unions raised safety concerns about unruly travelers, most notably after the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot at the Capitol.

The FAA will maintain its zero-tolerance policy at least as long as the federal mask mandate is in effect.

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