DeFazio Gives FAA until Sept. to Address Unruly Passengers

12 Aug, 2021 Liz Carey


Washington, DC ( – Citing the recent attacks on flight attendants and flight crew members, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Or., chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to protect its workers. 

In an Aug. 5 letter to the FAA, DaFazio asked the agency to not only suggest what Congress could to help strengthen the FAA’s authority in what he called incidents of “air rage,” but also what additional resources the agency needed to support and protect flight attendants and other crew members. 

“The violent, disruptive behavior that we’ve seen on airplanes this year must not go unpunished,” DeFazio wrote in his letter. “Recklessly refusing to wear a mask during the deadliest pandemic in a century is dangerous enough, but punching flight attendants, running for the cockpit door, assaulting other passengers, and the litany of other outrageous incidents reported in the press requires a strong federal response, and I want to ensure that the FAA has the legal tools and authorities necessary to put these incidents to a stop.” 

Last week, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson asked airports in a letter to step up their involvement in unruly passenger incidents. Specifically, Dickson asked airports to have airport police arrest passengers who are unruly or violent on flights, and for airports to ask their concessionaires to stop serving alcohol in “to go” cups. 

Dickson said the FAA’s investigation into the recent spate of attacks indicated that alcohol played a key part in many of them. 

Since the beginning of the year, the FAA has had more than 3,500 reports of unruly passengers. Of those 680 have warranted investigations, the agency said, compared to just low of 146 in 2019. 

In July, the Association of Flight Attendants released the results of a survey of more than 5,000 flight attendants that found that 17 percent of flight attendants reported physical injury during a passenger-related altercation in flight. Of the flight attendants surveyed, 85 percent said they had been involved in at least one unruly passenger incident, and 58 percent said they have been involved in at least 5 unruly passenger incidents. 

Examples of incidents over the course of the past few months indicate how bad the situation has gotten. In May, a passenger allegedly punched a Southwest flight attendant in the face, knocking out two of the flight attendant's teeth. Other reported incidents include a passenger attempting to breach the cockpit and striking an intervening flight attendant in the face; a passenger refusing to wear a mask, then hitting a flight attendant and urinating in the cabin; a passenger attempting to storm the flight deck in midflight; a passenger attempting to open an exit midflight and assaulting and biting the intervening flight attendant; and a passenger sexually assaulting two flight attendants and punching a third.

“I respectfully implore you to take any appropriate action to ensure that airline workers can easily report incidents of air rage and other inappropriate conduct among passengers, and that you continue, indefinitely, the FAA’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy regarding enforcement of the prohibitions on interference with crewmembers and other unruly conduct on board aircraft and to use every tool at your disposal to protect passengers and crew,” DeFazio wrote. 

DeFazio gave the agency until Sept. 1 to provide the committee with the number of additional safety inspectors the FAA needs to handle the enforcement caseload, as well as any suggestions on additional authorities or tools the FAA needs from Congress to make prohibitions on interfering with the duties of a crew member easier to enforce.


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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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