Government Gives Airlines One Week To Solve Unruly Passengers Problem

The federal government has seen unprecedented levels of passenger incidents on planes this year. About three quarters have related to the federal mask mandate. Yet no one seems to know what to do about it.

The government announces fines but in practice almost no one gets fined and almost no one who does get fined pays what’s ordered.

The FAA hasn’t solved the issue, so they’re punting to the airlines. The FAA has given U.S. airlines one week to come up with a solution to the problem of unruly passengers on board planes. Yet American Airlines CEO Doug Parker is candid with employees that he doesn’t know what else to do. Their only move is to push airports to stop selling alcohol to go.

At a meeting on Tuesday, the FAA told airline lobbyists they wanted a airlines to have a plan within the week, and will have similar demands of airports and labor groups. The FAA says it “believes additional action by the airlines and all aviation stakeholders is necessary to stop the unsafe behavior.”

Meanwhile Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to week to prosecute unruly passengers.

The priceless piece of this of course is that these are airlines and the government is threatening to publicly shame them. Neither party has shame. The penalty here is something along the lines of Hans Blix threatening Kim Jong Il with a strongly worded letter.

(HT: @crucker)

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. How about getting rid of the mask mandate? Seems like that should do it. Might be too easy though. Militant Americans probably will demand severe jail sentences for saying mean words to airline employees or saying the word trump.

  2. When a cop writes you a ticket and you don’t pay or request court date, your license gets suspended. Same here, ban on air travel until fine paid or court resolved

  3. Maybe start with some customer service training for your employees? Mutual respect can go a long way. Instead they’re basically giving flight attendants the right to be even bigger tyrants then they already are. I really wish they airlines would just fail so we could start from scratch.

  4. I anticipate the introduction of a new and improved government-funded super sticky duct tape restraint program to help flight attendants control those pesky and unruly passengers.

  5. Hilarious, 20 years of all parties (TSA, Airport Operators and Airlines) relentlessly degrading the flying experience, and now they think they can fix this by next Tuesday.

    Its not rocket science to know that if you engineer a high stress, confrontational environment, then elevated levels of aggression and conflict are the logical consequence.

  6. Don’t really see people becoming nicer any time soon. Ever met a kid from Gen Z? They make millenials look like nuns. Good luck America.

  7. Based on all I have seen having gone full on travel the past year, at a pace even more than pre-covid, I can say without a doubt it’s been one thing: Stimulus Money. I never saw anything like the past six months. One would hope that travel would create an opportunity for people to step outside their comfort level and enjoy the experience. Learn from it. But, sadly, no. The stimulus money went directly to drunken romps at hotels (even urban properties in unlikely places).

    As much as we want to think the airlines got direct stimulus cash, they also got indirect stimulus money on people blowing their new wads on thoughtless trips to debauchery. It saved the travel and hospitality industry. At a cost though. And we see it now.

    I have noticed though it’s starting to show signs of getting better. Hotels (other than on weekends) seem to be calmer. Airports are a bit more civil. I see some business travelers again.

  8. @ Gary — They should drop the mask mandate, and add a vaccine mandate in its place. The unvaccinated can stay home. Problem solved.

  9. all the fines and penalties in the world in the world won’t do a bit of good unless they are enforced. You want people to behave; fine them thousands of dollars (and collect), put them in jail for a couple nights, and ban them from flying for a specified period of tie.

  10. Run more reliable operations so passengers are less stressed when they finally get on the plane and raise fares so there are fewer people on flights.

    And get rid of the mask mandate – masks have never been proven to work in real life in the covid environment as worn by real Americans including with non-surgical masks. 18 months into the pandemic, if the government can’t prove the validity of its strategies, they need to be ditched.

  11. I suppose the real irony here is that the FAA, after demanding an answer within a week, will then spend quite some time (they’re VERY busy) formulating a reg which will then be put out for required public comment for 30-60 days before being finalized. They’ll be right on it in early ’22.

  12. Jerry – I completely agree, they should get rid of the mask mandate and replace it with a vaccine mandate. Make the TSA deal with enforcing it so then the airlines are happy since then their people don’t have to deal with enforcement anymore.

    Travel can become the most normal thing to do in the country.

  13. The unruly passenger problem can be solved if flight attendants stopped considering passengers who don’t wear masks between sips of water or wear the mask a little low after a 4 hour flight (that’s 7 hours with both sides of the airport if there are no delays plus maybe a taxi both ways) unruly passengers or if captains told snowflake attendants to be quiet.

    Passengers haven’t been more unruly than they were in 2019. Flight attendants have just become more unreasonable.

  14. Libertarians have to be thrilled with this. Instead of the big bad federal government mandating a specific course of action from on high, companies just need to come up with viable action plans. As long as what the company plans is even moderately workable the feds stay away. If the airlines were smart, they’d ask the government to mandate vaccinations for fliers with vaccination status being verified at TSA checkpoints. Not only would that allow the airlines to point fingers at the government for the requirement but if they started losing substantial revenue as a result they could approach the government for yet another handout.

  15. I totally agree with the mask mandate, it should be a choice among Americans. Bam! Problem Solved. This isn’t rocket science, Sleepy Joe and the FAA!

  16. @Tim Dunn: I understand your point but let’s face it, these people don’t walk into the terminal and immediately switch to high stress level. They walk in the terminals with attitudes like @Jackass Waterson and go from high level idiot to intolerable idiot.

  17. So American and Spirit have one week to figure out their issues. Other carriers, business as usual….

  18. Have the authorities meet each and every aircraft upon arrival at the gate . Have them board the plane , go to the seat(s) and escort each and every person off of the plane who was not compliant with FAA and company policies . Sounds simple ; but will require those on the flight to be given ample warning and time to reconcile . If not then escort them off . It will also require flight crews to document each occurrence . Finally , ban them from all airlines for as many years as each airline chooses to do so . When people step on the plane they are expected to be humane . Full Stop .End of conversation .
    Thank You…

  19. Have the authorities board the plane when it’s at the gate . Escort these people off the plane and have them banned from flying for as long as the airlines’ choose . They must pay , in full , the amount deemed necessary by FAA / Airline . Full stop . Done .

  20. It is conclusory (as well as trite) to say that unruly passenger behavior is caused by the mask mandate. It is nauseating to hear the chorus “it’s all because of masks,” which becomes “it’s all because of a failed immigration policy” in the second verse, which in comments to another post somehow became tied in to abortion in the third verse (I’m still working on that one). But, what if it ain’t? What if it’s just a bunch of jerks who don’t care one way or another about masks?

    To Ray’s point, the incident involving a trio of gals who punched out the gate agent who announce a flight was delayed had absolutely nothing to do with masks. The incident involving a guy starting a fight with another passenger at a check-in kiosk had absolutely nothing to do with masks. Etc.
    Etc. Ray is correct: these individuals were predisposed to such behavior. Put another way . . . it’s not the gun, it’s the person . . . it’s not the mask, it’s the person.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter what the cause is. It really doesn’t.

    In the end, everyone has to ask themselves a simple question: When the security event happens on your flight as it did on one of my flights (and it had nothing to do with a mask), are you going to 1) assist the flight attendant or 2) defend the violent passenger’s rights? Better to answer the question now than debate it in the heat of the moment.


    Conduct and attire shall be consistent with the intended use of this facility. It’s the law. It’s Constitutional.

    US Code, Title 49, Section 46504 (in pertinent part) reads:

    “An individual on an aircraft . . . who . . . interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both. . . . ”

    Section 46507 (in pertinent part) reads:

    “An individual shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, if the individual . . . (2)(A) threatens to violate section . . . 46504 . . . of this title, or causes a threat to violate any of those sections to be made . . . “

  21. This very occasionally happens on UK flights where passengers get absolutely drunk beyond belief. However, it’s rare and if a passenger is obviously wasted at the gate, they will be denied boarding. I’ve flown all over Europe over the last few weeks without a single incident.

    I am inclined to suspect that many of these incidents could have been avoided if flight crews were better trained in de-escalation and using some discretion and common sense, instead of panicking. Stories of people being yelled at for not having their masks on between sips of water, or conflicts escalating because tiny kids can’t keep their masks on, are insane.

    However it’s also down to an ever increasing ‘us and them’ and ‘tell the teacher’ mentality amongst the US public and I am sure many flight attendants have been put under enormous pressure by passengers to be seen to act when there is a perceived transgression. Planes are microcosms of society, with a whole heap of stress thrown in for good measure. I fear that what is happening on board is merely a reflection of this society – one which is rapidly falling apart and needs some help to heal before it fractures for good.

  22. @Christian,

    I love the fantasy land you live in. Having the TSA verify vaccine status at checkpoints? They have a proven history of missing weapons in carry-on bags as high as 97% of the time.

    An even better solution would be to disband the TSA jobs program and save the tax payers $7.78 billion (2020 budget).

  23. I agree with those who say a vaccine mandate would make a big difference. The jerks who fight over masks are the same ones who reject vaccines. Stop them at the TSA checkpoint, and help to solve the COVID problem in general at the same time. And with a vaccine mandate, you could allow people to remove their masks once they are completely through the checkpoint, now making the TSA screening a highlight of the air travel experience, rather than the most dreaded part of it.

    Actually prosecute violators and if convicted actually make them pay with fines and imprisonment, including also placement on a no fly list for a determined period of time. We need to stop coddling those who are prolonging the crisis with their irresponsibility. We don’t see fights over smoking on planes anymore. We got serious about stopping it.

  24. How about just handcuffing everyone to their seat…and gagging them so they can’t ask the flight attendants for anything. Oh and about the unruly behavior….well now that you mention it, in a lot of those fight videos, the participants were black (or what many love to call BIPOC). We CERTAINLY can’t just put black people in jail because that’s racist….or slavery….or something. So those rules need only be applied to white people (which we all know are the devil anyway) and Trump supporters.
    Like where this country is? Good.

  25. Mindless bureaucrats created the problem with the mask requirement. Now mindless bureaucrats are trying to get the airlines to deal with the results. Such insanity. When are we going to have people who THINK in charge of us? Well never, of course, because nobody who can think would ever want to be a politician or a bureaucrat.

  26. Simple solution, institute vaccine mandates. The airlines have every right to do so and the angry anti-vaxxers are definitely in the minority. It makes good business sense.

    Angry the poor souls like steve, above, can throw their tantrums in the privacy of their own homes.

  27. Given that Southwest execs and others have asked for the mask mandate to end, this might be a means by which the airlines can tell the FAA that getting rid of the mask mandate would help w/ in-flight violence. In return, they might ask for vaccine mandates in the name of protecting passengers and crew.
    Let’s see what the airlines say- their responses will become public but I wouldn’t be surprised if the effect is to end the mask mandates which are the reason for most passenger problems.
    And since Southwest and American have tied alcohol sales to getting rid of the mask mandate and there are frequent cases of passenger problems from passengers that consume their own alcohol or what they bought in the airport, allowing airlines to sell alcohol in limits that have been controlled for years with few problems could return the alcohol problems back to levels seen before covid.

  28. Poor @Chris must only see the videos or news stories on his/her beloved Fox News. I have seen a fair share of idiots, if not the majority, of white deniers causing the issues. The tell sign was the backhand at BIPOC. Guess that terms gets under your skin.

  29. @Ray
    Typical leftist response. Blame any opposing argument on watching Fox News, then use personal insult, and deny said problems never happen, then bring race into the argument.
    Maybe that is how the algorithm is written for these bots? Sad thing is these are probably real people just programmed like bots

  30. @Jerry: typical right wing response, don’t accept responsibility because that isn’t what he meant. Did you read Chris’s post or that didn’t count? And by the way, you lose your point when you start calling names.

  31. What idiot in the government thinks that airlines can do anything about this situation? Sadly, people during lockdown and with COVID stress have forgotten how to behave in society. Therefore, the government should step up in enforcing the rules on those that don’t follow them.

    As for blaming it on alcohol, there was more alcohol available before the pandemic and we did not have this high number of incidents; therefore, as easy it is to blame alcohol, that’s not the culprit.

  32. @Kevin – Your plan is that we should just work on the honor system instead of having the TSA. That way we could just request that people not bring weapons on planes and hope for the best. How well has that worked with other crimes in the past, just trusting criminals to follow the law because you ask nicely? I’ll take a viable, transparent, responsible alternative to the TSA but your defund option doesn’t work for me.

  33. If the jackasses can’t behave in a manner that is responsible and prudent for public health by wearing a mask properly then ticket/fine them, prosecute them., make them pay and put them on a no fly list and prove they should be taken off the no fly list no less than two years after being banned.

    People need to learn they aren’t special and need to understand that if they don’t want to wear a mask, or a shirt or shoes or whatever is deemed necessary for public health then they can drive their happy asses where they want to go. Or get on a cruise and live in the petri dish.

    I have zero sympathy for any of these people bitching about masks. These are the same people that demand “others” to obey the law but as usual, they themselves are “special” and don’t have to follow the laws and throw a shitfit tantrum which should win them a place on the no fly list, a night or two in jail, appearing before a judge and basically be “in the system”.

    If people are being such jackasses about wearing a mask or cannot behave like a normal person with manners, then the solution is that they be put on a no fly list and sit their happy asses in time out until they can prove before a judge that they should be allowed on a plane and can follow the required dress code which includes a mask.

    And for those that think this pandemic is not going to affect them because they have been vaccinated, the vaccine does not protect you fully against mutant strains like delta or mu – and mu appears to be completely unaffected by your vaccine status but luckily has low transmission rates.

    Public health is something that appears to be a bridge too far some extremists in that they literally would need to behave in a manner that isn’t going to endanger people they hate. Wearing a mask is the easiest way to reduce transmission as the source. These extremist individuals are just jackasses looking to make everyone else’s lives as shitty as their own. That kind of behavior needs to stop and if they can’t behave then they go to the no fly list time out penalty box.

  34. Criminal actions, even a misdemeanor level action such as not wearing a mask, are under the FAA’s jurisdiction.

    Air Marshall’s, qualified security services with temporary authority to do so, and possibly even military police, under what has become an emergency situation, could be, and should be used on the maximum number of flights possible.

    And, the maskless offenders, should actually be arrested and taken to jail. This is a big deal, as they are then in the. Law enforcement database.

  35. The science tells us cloth masks are useless (especially on airplanes) against Covid, but most people don’t know this because “public health” and the media have this strange partnership to suppress science (we can assume public health wants people to be a little fearful of Covid by encouraging mask signaling, and the media is just stupidly playing along). But, over time, more people will understand the truth. Do you think that will lead more people to comply with the silly mask mandates? I don’t think so. Wouldn’t it be better to just follow the science now and avoid all the drama?

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