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FAA chief seeks more prosecution of unruly airline passengers

Airports also asked to work with concessionaires to limit alcohol-related incidents

File photo (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
File photo (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The nation’s top aviation regulator is suggesting that local police around the country should file charges more often against unruly airline passengers and that airports should clamp down on alcohol sales.

Federal Aviation Administration chief Stephen Dickson said that every week police are asked to be there when a flight lands after an incident involving passengers, including cases in which they assault flight attendants.

“Nevertheless, many of these passengers were interviewed by local police and released without criminal charges of any kind,” Dickson said in letters to airport officials. “When this occurs, we miss a key opportunity to hold unruly passengers accountable for their unacceptable and dangerous behavior.”

Dickson noted in the letters dated Wednesday that the FAA has proposed civil fines against dozens of passengers in recent months, but the agency has not authority to file criminal charges.

Dickson also asked airports to work with concessionaires to limit alcohol-related incidents. He said some concessionaires sell alcohol to go and passengers get drunk before the flight or believe they can carry their drinks onto the plane.

Airports also asked to work with concessionaires to limit alcohol-related incidents
Airports also asked to work with concessionaires to limit alcohol-related incidents

At Jacksonville International Airport, four restaurants serve alcohol under the supervision of two different concessionaires. An airport spokesperson told News4Jax, however, that JIA does not serve “alcohol to go” and alcohol consumption is only permitted inside the restaurants.

Airports that do serve “alcohol to go” include Nashville International, Chicago’s Midway and O’Hare, George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, Fort Lauderdale International, Las Vegas International, Miami International and Tampa International. But open containers cannot be taken onto a plane, as FAA regulations prohibit consuming alcohol onboard that is not served by an airline.

This week, the FAA said airlines have reported 3,715 incidents involving unruly passengers since Jan. 1, with about three-fourths of the events involving people who refuse to wear face masks, as the federal government requires on airline flights. The FAA said it started investigating more than 600 incidents -- nearly double the numbers for 2019 and 2020 combined -- and has proposed fines in 99 of them.

The Association of Flight Attendants has pushed for more criminal prosecutions. The union said last week that nearly one in five members who responded to a survey reported witnessing or being involved in physical incidents involving passengers this year.