Airlines Are Asking The Government To Send Unruly Passengers To Prison

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Two things at work here. First is that jail time is an excellent idea for ANYONE who breaks the law, whether it’s a dumb law or not. It’s the only way to stop the ever-increasing horrid behaviour in public.

    Second, we’re dealing with the Feds so no hope for them eliminating the mask rule before they’re good and ready. They haven’t tortured us quite enough yet. You’d think the airlines would apply more pressure so those of us who won’t fly with a mask will get out there and SPEND OUR MONEY.

  2. If the airlines are requesting peaceful (normal) dissidents be sent people to jail for potentially 20 years, who is it exactly that’s advocating violence?

  3. Unfortunately institutions take on a life of their own and the logic of their missions becomes secondary to their continued existence. A good example is the hopeless “war on drugs”. Eventually the masks will go, I am guessing by Thanksgiving, but as usual nobody wants to take the responsibility for an action which could lead to problems. If the mandate is lifted and one person gets sick after a flight and then blames it on the environment if will reflect badly on them. The fact that many people are scientific illiterates and know nothing of statistics doesn’t help here either.

  4. In the context of burning cities and soaring murder rates, what is happening on airplanes is just a part of violence which has been happening throughout the US for well over a year.

    It is all wrong but airlines received enormous amounts of money that others have not, even as they have pushed for things like the mask mandate which even lawmakers might realize is partly responsible for all that is going on.

  5. Stephen, ….that doesn’t really make sense. But, if by “peaceful”, you mean to criminals punching flight attendants in the face, starting full-fledged fights or making threats against passengers and/or flight personnel then…. ok, then yeah, I think it’s a terrific idea to throw them in jail for a bit. 20 years might seem excessive but… is doing any of the above because you don’t want to follow a rule you were made aware of before you boarded your flight.

    Huey judy, the airlines don’t want the nightmare of having them publicly excoriated when a plane full of people wind up coming down with CoVid. By this point, we’re pretty good with knowing that those who are steadfastly against going through that barbaric process of putting a tiny piece of cloth on their face are the ones who are most certainly those not vaccinated as well and creating the most potential for danger to others. So…..Putting a mask on, seriously, is hardly big ask. And if that’s stopping you from spending $15 on a Spirit flight, I’m sure Florida will still be ok without you.

  6. To bad treating your customers like dirt isn’t a crime, or some airline CEOs would be sentenced to life without parole.

  7. Unions are cancer. True especially when they join hands with management to screw the flying public.

  8. Can we send the CEO of those airlines to jail every time they seek bailout money from taxpayers?

  9. Burn a courthouse or loot the ATT store? No problem!

    Take your mask off on a plane? 20 years to life.

  10. It’s all fun and games saying those who choose to not be vaccinated will only infect each other until some refusenik (* second definition) boards with some extra virulent mutant COVID strain and passes it to your unvaccinated children or it breaks through the current vaccines’ defenses.

  11. @huey judy – you think jail time is a great idea for all those circumstances? I think the death penalty is a great idea for you.

  12. Now corporations want to put people in jail but support politicians who want to defund police and take people out of jail. But at least we don’t have mean tweets anymore!

  13. Flying is a 100% optional activity in life. Never ever has to be done. If you are still worried about Covid and people without masks, DON’T GET ON a PLANE. This should have been pretty obvious all along, but plane maskers are just whiners who need to complain about something and love to tell people what to do.

  14. Actually the statement should read “And we can eliminate much of the conflict today if we just follow the CONscience.” !!! The problem is people do not follow and are not governed by their conscience. Society has degraded where people conduct themselves without morals.

  15. Sure. Let’s all get anotherwave, this one of delta COVID-19, because a bunch of snowflakes don’t understand infectious transmission science and prefer to whine. What a nation of softies.

  16. I do think the mask mandate should go away (and that mask mandates shouldn’t be a thing at all.) If people voluntarily want to wear a mask or two, or three, they’re free to do so.

    Despite the foregoing, there is no excuse for violence under any circumstances – and people should always face the proper consequences for doing so.
    “Proper consequences” means civil penalties, criminal charges for assault, as well as being banned from the airline (or, if the incident happens at the airport, trespassed from the airport).

    Many violent incidents involve drunkenness. Think before you imbibe! Alcohol has an increased effect at inflight cabin altitudes.

  17. Stop with the propaganda of mask laws.
    Speed limits are money traps without safety measure. Mask mandates is only safety enforcement to prevent virus spread so unvaccinated people (e.g., kids) are not infected by strangers. Stop the selfishness.

  18. We have an expensive problem
    that comes with this tendency to want to incarcerate people for poor behavior that is generally better addressed and punished in ways that don’t involve incarcerating people

    And US companies wanting to criminalize ever more customer behavior is also a problem in ways.

  19. Sounds great….right after you put every last one of those responsible for Burning, Looting and Murdering all last year in prison.

  20. Lol. We have airlines who keep customers on hold for 9 hours, constantly change or cancel flights, can’t be bothered to serve drinks or meals, FAs who hide out all flight so they don’t have to deal with customers except to yell at them but they want to out people in prison.

    Clean up your own house first.

  21. The issue is air travel has been made available through low cost to the most feral people. These are the ones that don’t know how to wash their hands, only act in anger, and think rules are only for other people. Triple the price for all flights, and the unruly passenger problem is solved, pilot shortages go away, nasty flight attendants can be weeded out, middle seats removed, etc. Let one of the lousy domestic airlines that don’t know how to actually operate an airline fail (yes, you American Airlines) and the rest will rediscover customer service. Flying is not a right. It’s a privilege. They’ll cram their feral butts into the station wagon, with their feral family and nobody else, and drive there when they can’t afford to fly. Just like a few decades ago.

  22. What a shock an article about airlines asking for misbehaving passengers to go to prison quickly turns into Gary complaining about masks yet again. Notice he doesn’t mention the Delta variant which is 60% more contagious than the Alpha variant in the UK. Hospitalizations are going up in parts of the country and they are expecting surges in July from the variant or how Europe’s recovery is being put at risk because of this variant.

  23. What about banning these people from flying on any airline EVER?
    That would get their attention.

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