As flyers slowly return, airlines are dealing with a surge in unruly passengers

As flyers slowly return, airlines are dealing with a surge in unruly passengers
The FAA recently extended a new "zero-tolerance" policy toward unruly behavior.Jeff Chiu/AP Photo
  • The FAA has received roughly 1,300 reports of unruly passengers since February.
  • The agency recently extended a crackdown on disruptive passengers that it instated in January.
  • Air travel is still depressed, but the number of unruly and violent incidents is on the rise.

The Federal Aviation Administration continues to sound the alarm about a surge in unruly passengers aboard flights, even as the number of people flying remains far below pre-pandemic levels.

The agency received some 1,300 unruly-passenger reports from airlines since February and identified potential violations in roughly 260 cases, an FAA spokesperson told Insider on Tuesday. The FAA has initiated around 20 enforcement cases and is preparing more.

In recent years, the agency has typically brought between 100 and 150 enforcement cases against passengers, it said.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson slammed the significant increase in disruptive and violent behavior in an interview with NBC News on Monday.

"It is not permissible and we will not tolerate interfering with a flight crew and the performance of their safety duties. Period," Dickson said.


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Flight attendants have also noticed an increase in the number and severity of incidents, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, told the outlet. She said flight attendants have been assaulted, pushed, and choked, and there have been instances of passengers spitting or urinating.

"The physical and verbal abuse that flight attendants have been taking has been way off the charts," Nelson told NBC.

In March, the FAA extended a "zero-tolerance" policy, which it first enacted in January after noticing a "disturbing increase" in instances of passengers being hostile toward crew members or refusing to wear masks.

The new rules authorize the agency to skip warnings and hand down stricter penalties to passengers who assault, threaten, or otherwise interfere with cabin crew members. Punishments include fines of up to $35,000 or imprisonment.


In April, the FAA proposed a $31,750 fine against a JetBlue passenger who allegedly got drunk off of alcohol he snuck onto the plane and assaulted a flight attendant. In March, the agency proposed a $20,000 fine against a passenger who allegedly would not put on her mask, shouted obscenities, and shoved a flight attendant.

According to data from the Transportation Security Administration, the number of daily air travelers has been increasing steadily over the last several months, hitting an average of 1.7 million in the past week. Still, the numbers are well below 2019 figures by about 37%.