U.S. airlines, represented by their lobbying group Airlines For America, have jointed the biggest airline unions in calling for the Department of Justice to prosecute passengers who cause flight disturbances.
Already the FAA has been proposing record-setting passenger fines for bad behavior, but that hasn’t done the trick of scaring passengers straight. And while less reported on, most of these fines don’t actually get paid the way they’re announced. The fine has to be pursued through the administrative law process, that doesn’t always happen. And where it does it may get settled for a smaller amount we never hear about.
While there have been over 400 enforcement actions by the FAA in five months – more than 6 times the pre-pandemic rate – only 57 civil penalty actions have actually been initiated. Most of those won’t result in the actual proposed fine being paid.
Now, airlines and unions want criminal sanctions up to 20 years in prison.
The letter from Airlines for America, which represents American Airlines (AAL.O), Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), United Airlines (UAL.O), Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) and others, along with major unions said the “incidents pose a safety and security threat to our passengers and employees, and we respectfully request the (Justice Department) commit to the full and public prosecution of onboard acts of violence.”
Notably though 2300 of the 3000 reports of unruly behavior the FAA has received this year have been related to masks. Isn’t it striking that the airlines and unions don’t recognize that three quarters of the incidents, then, could be eliminated by lifting the mask mandate – that no longer makes any sense in any case?
The mask mandate was extended days before the CDC announced vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks in most settings (such as packed bars and restaurants). Aircraft cabins aren’t less safe indoor congregant settings than those.
Now that every adult in the U.S. who wants a vaccine can get one there’s no longer a reason to require them.
- The mRNA vaccines are incredibly effective at protecting people from infection, sickness, and negative outcomes. Most who have been vaccinated have little to fear.
- Those who haven’t been vaccinated are making that choice and shouldn’t be imposing a cost on others. Even without a mandate, passengers can still wear masks.
There are a very limited number of people for whom vaccines may not be indicated or may be less effective. The argument being made for the mandate, though, isn’t to protect those people so they can fly worry-free.
Children can’t yet get vaccinated but children are at statistically lower risk than vaccinated older Americans anyway. For young kids Covid-19 is less of a risk than many of the things we accepted already as background, pre-pandemic. And most evidence suggests they’re less likely to spread the virus as well. (Mask requirements for two year olds was always silly, Delta’s policy to exempt young children made far more sense before it was outlawed.)
The increased conflict we’ve seen on planes was predictable. In fact I predicted it. Violent behavior should be punished appropriately, but when you’re calling on the government to prosecute your customers there’s a more fundamental problem. And we can eliminate much of the conflict today if we just follow the science.