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FAA Sees Over 1,300 Unruly Passenger Cases in Four Months of 2021

FAA Sees Over 1,300 Unruly Passenger Cases in Four Months of 2021
Joe Cortez

As flyers start to return to the skies, the Federal Aviation Administration says more passengers are causing disruptions in the skies. In just four months of 2021, the agency has taken over 1,300 reports of unruly passengers – an increase of over 800 percent compared to previous years.

The Federal Aviation Administration is sending a warning to everyone boarding an airplane this year: If you cause a disruption aboard a flight, find a new way to travel into the year. NBC News reports the agency is deeply concerned about a significant spike of passengers causing issues aboard flights.

Agency Sees over 800 percent increase in incidents compared to normal year

After a number of flights experienced disruptions ahead of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the FAA instituted a “zero tolerance” policy aboard aircraft. Those who were caught creating a disruption would be subject to a $35,000 fine, possible lifetime bans by airlines and possible criminal prosecution.

Even though the policy was designed to deter poor behavior, the civil aviation agency says they have experienced the opposite. In a “normal” pre-pandemic year, the FAA may receive between 100 and 150 complaints about flyers creating problems on flights. In the first four months of 2021, they have received over 1,300 cases of dangerous and disruptive behavior. The incidents include reports of people failing to wear face masks, having too much to drink on a flight, or allegations of physical and verbal assault.

As a result, the FAA is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security to increase watch over airports and aircraft. Both the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Air Marshals will work together to help keep calm aboard aircraft.

“It is not permissible and we will not tolerate interfering with a flight crew and the performance of their safety duties,” FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson told NBC News. “Period.”

Policies and Penalties Appear to Have Little Effect on Flyer Behavior

Although the fines are among the highest instituted for disruptive passenger behavior, the policies seem to have little effect among passengers. In April and early May 2021 alone, an Alaska state senator was banned from Alaska Airlines for not wearing a face mask on the flight, flyers in Miami International Airport (MIA) engaged in a brawl over standby seats, and an American Airlines flyer was charged in court for an alleged assault of a flight attendant.

View Comments (12)


  1. SkyIsKing

    May 4, 2021 at 10:09 am

    I am 100% in favor of a zero-tolerance policy for passengers not following the instructions of a flight crew. Flight crews are well-trained to ensure safe flying for the public. If a passenger can’t obey the flight crew on the ground, I don’t want them at 37,000ft. It would also help to stop serving alcohol in airports and on-board flights. Unfortunately, many people can’t control their behavior. These folks don’t belong on flights ever. Flying is not a right, it is a privilege that is not guaranteed by the purchase of a ticket.

  2. gaspasser

    May 4, 2021 at 10:15 am

    Misbehavior is never acceptable but maybe the FAA should dig deeper than talking points from the Flight Attendants union. People are tired of being treated like cattle. Any flyer that is disruptive should be removed, but as a long-standing flyer, it is better policy for FAs to defuse situations than sometimes throwing gasoline on embers. Anybody who strikes, attempts to strike or uses profanity against flight crew should be dealt with, but simply asking a question or clarification should not be cause for a self righteous FA to throw someone off a flight.

  3. rkt10

    May 4, 2021 at 10:23 am

    Kinda makes you wonder if the increase is, at least in part, brought on by the airlines themselves. There have been so many instances in the news over the past months where the onerous regulations and reactions of staff & crew have treated passengers in an unkind way. I think of all the examples of families being booted because their young children weren’t wearing a mask, etc. People are frustrated and the rigidity of airline personnel bring them to the brink. Now I admit there are a number of nasty people and people who get into brawls that are making the job of airlines more difficult. But I don’t know that this is the majority of instances of unruly passengers.

  4. DeltaFlyer123

    May 4, 2021 at 10:32 am

    It’s terrible that these incidents are occurring. It hasn’t occurred to me that I should have reason to behave like that. But interestingly, I just had a routine medical checkup (I’m 72, so medicare pays for routine checkups) and they gave me an extensive questionnaire about what was mainly mental-related questions, about feeling depressed, angry, excessive drinking and so on. I imagine it’s because of the “life changes” imposed by the pandemic.
    Perhaps every passenger should submit a doctor’s certificate of airworthiness for passengers, just as the FAA does for airplanes.

  5. vargha

    May 4, 2021 at 10:40 am

    It sounds like a classic case of simply finding what you’re looking for, especially in light of much lower traffic.

  6. chollie

    May 4, 2021 at 10:49 am

    Unfortunately, this seems to be getting worse, not better. I realize FA’s are in a tough position, but taking a hard line and publicizing it seems to be necessary.

    I recently took 2 Delta two-hour flights.

    Flight 1: Pre take-off a very loud older male in 1B announces his opposition to the ‘stupid’ masks and vows to make a snack pack last the entire flight. . Was he bellowing for the sake of his younger friend? The FA’s? The rest of the plane? FA reminds him once to cover his nose. He complies, FA walks away, he pulls it back down. Shortly before landing, he took it off completely and had to be told to put it back on.

    He should have been met at the gate by a Redcoat and had future DL flights curtailed.

    Flight 2: Three very loud women (performing for their captive audience) start bellowing about ‘Karens’ who report people for not wearing masks. My seatmate in 4B had to be asked to wear a mask. He took it off repeatedly. Where I really had an issue is when the FA picked up his trash, exchanged a few words, but did NOT ask him to put his mask back on. That was left for me to do. Thumbs down to the FA.

  7. SamirD

    May 4, 2021 at 1:03 pm

    Coming soon! Security cameras!

    It is apparent that there’s a lot more assholes flying lately. Like the MF who was practically pressed up against me as I was trying to put up my bags and get in my seat on a recent flight. Maybe I should have just started having a coughing fit…

  8. Cotumely

    May 4, 2021 at 1:49 pm

    How many people actually received any punishment? It would seem that even if you have caused a plane to divert, no sanctions are imposed.

  9. st3

    May 5, 2021 at 9:03 am

    Arrest them and then put them on the no-fly list for at least 5 years and make an example out of a few. I imagine the “freedom fighters” will fall in line.

    Flying is a privilege, not a right and no you don’t get all the same freedoms you would have in your home.

  10. SFO1974

    May 5, 2021 at 10:45 am

    There are people who are rude and obnoxious – in the workplace, in the grocery store, and on planes. This is not news. I have never once had a negative interaction with an FA. Have I had less-than-stellar service? You bet! (I’m looking at you, UA Long Haul.) It is what you make it. Follow the rules and sit quietly for the duration of the flight. Its probably no more than 4 hours of your life. It will just give you some great talking points the next time you’re griping about the Nanny State with your friends.

  11. MelP

    May 5, 2021 at 1:46 pm

    My Delta flight from RSW to JFK this past weekend was taxiing for takeoff but turned back to the gate to kick off a passenger refusing to wear their mask. Was very low-key though, did not notice any disturbance and only saw the errant passenger as he got up to deplane, although I did see him in the boarding area before getting on blissfully waiting with no mask and no sign of having one (I think they gave him one to board…)..

  12. chollie

    May 6, 2021 at 7:37 am

    I would like to see the airlines treat passengers who don’t follow the mask rules the same way TSA treats anyone who tries to refuse a patdown.

    We know these passengers are capable of complying because they have already passed a checkpoint. The difference at the checkpoint is that refusing to follow the rules WILL have consequences. It’s not at all clear that there will be consequences for misbehavior on the plane (or in the terminal), which is why it continues to happen.

    Perhaps firm pre-flight announcements similar to when smoking was first banned would be appropriate, but only if followed with consistent action.

    Hint: that doesn’t mean relaxing the rules in first while cracking down on coach.

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