The Federal Aviation Administration has received more than 3,000 reports of unruly airplane passengers so far this year, with the majority involving face mask regulations, according to CNN.
About 2,300 reports were related to passengers who refused to follow the federal requirement to wear a face mask on flights to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.
The FAA is investigating the highest number of potential federal law violations in unruly passenger cases since 1995, according to ABC News. The agency has identified 394 cases where passengers have broken the law by “interfering with the duties of a crew member,” which is double the number from 2020 and more than two and a half times the number from 2019.
“In a typical year, the agency will end up taking this type of enforcement action in about 100 to 160 enforcement cases, so it’s nothing new,” Steve Dickson, chief of the FAA, told ABC News.
“What really is new is the volume we’re seeing right now,” he said.
Under CDC and Department of Transportation policies, passengers are still required to wear a face mask on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation while traveling into, within or out of the U.S., as well as in transportation hubs such as airports.
Nearly 6 million passengers were screened by the Transportation Security Administration between Friday and Sunday, which is the most in a three-day period during the past 15 months, according to CBS News. FAA officials hope to curb bad behavior as post-pandemic travel increases.
The FAA launched a zero-tolerance policy against passenger misbehavior in January after seeing the sharp increase in reports. Officials also began tracking the overall number of unruly passenger reports, which they had never done before, CNN reported.
However, the agency hasn’t seen a decrease in cases since the policy was implemented, ABC News reported.
“They seem to be escalating,” Lyn Montgomery, a spokesperson for the Southwest flight attendants’ union, told the news station. “And that is why we’re asking for additional help.”
Unions are urging airlines to use their no-fly lists more often, ABC News reported. In addition, Southwest and American Airlines have postponed the resumption of alcohol sales to tamp down the in-flight issues.
The FAA has publicly released details from 23 incidents and announced fines that totaled more than $400,000, CNN reported. The largest fine of $52,000 was proposed in May against a passenger who tried to open the cockpit door and physically assaulted a flight attendant twice.
On Monday, the FAA also proposed penalties ranging from $7,500 to $15,500 against four passengers who interfered with flight attendants’ instructions, which all involved face mask guidelines.
On a Feb. 5 flight, a passenger was told to wear his face mask over both his mouth and nose “at least 10 times” and “repeatedly ignored their instructions,” the FAA wrote. In another February flight from New York to Cancun, a woman refused to wear her mask and inserted her finger into her nose in response to a flight attendant’s directions.
“The FAA further alleges she yelled, used profanity and refused to read a warning note that a flight attendant issued to her,” the FAA wrote. “As a result of her disruptive behavior, the captain diverted the flight to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.”
The unruly behavior is “out of control,” Sara Nelson, international president for the Association of Flight Attendants, told CNN earlier this week.
“We are hearing from flight attendants who are saying ‘I’m concerned about going to work now,'” she said. “This is so pervasive in our workplace that I’m concerned about going to work.”
CNN: “3,000 unruly airplane passengers reported this year, FAA says.”
ABC News: “3,000 unruly passengers so far this year – 2,300 cases over mask wearing: FAA.”
CBS News: “Unruly airline passengers face thousands in fines as air travel picks up.”
Federal Aviation Administration: “Press Release – FAA Proposes Fines Against Four Passengers for Allegedly Interfering with Flight Attendants, June 14, 2021.”