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House Democrats urge Justice Dept. to prosecute unruly airline passengers

The Federal Aviation Administration has said that there have been spiking instances of unruly airline passengers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Pool Photo by Nir Elias/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/752d23a049a245a35e5b57868d80d8f2/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
The Federal Aviation Administration has said that there have been spiking instances of unruly airline passengers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Pool Photo by Nir Elias/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 4 (UPI) -- House Democrats are calling on the Justice Department to use its authorities to investigate and prosecute unruly airline passengers amid a surge in crews having to deal with confrontational behavior during flights.

In a letter addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday, the six House Democrats led by Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas urged the Justice Department to put forth more resources to combat the problem of spiking disruptive and violent incidents aboard planes that include the targeting of flight staff.

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"The Department of Justice has ample authority to prosecute those who commit crimes while onboard an aircraft," they said. "It is vital that DOJ direct federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors to use their authority to fully investigate reported incidents on aircraft and, when supported by evidence, prosecute those who are criminally responsible."

They said "robust efforts" to prosecute those who violate U.S. laws while in the air will deter others from interfering with air travel.

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The Federal Aviation Administration and airline carriers have been dealing with spiking cases of unruly passengers amid the pandemic.

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According to FAA data, there have been 5,033 unruly passenger incidents as of Tuesday for this year, including more than 3,600 described as mask-related. Of those, 950 investigations have been launched, the highest number by far in the last 15 years with the second highest being the 310 probes initiated in 2004.

In January, the FAA announced a zero tolerance policy for unruly passengers to bring civil legal enforcement of fines of up to $35,000.

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In June, a coalition of U.S. airlines and employee unions urged the Biden administration to criminally prosecute passengers for these behaviors.

The sending of the letter follows the arrest of an American Airlines passenger who is accused of punching a flight attendant in the nose on Oct. 27. The flight attendant suffered a concussion, according to prosecutors. Doug Parker, American Airlines chairman and chief executive officer, called it "one of the worst displays of unruly behavior we've ever witnessed."

The House Democrats on Wednesday also called on the Justice Department to create a system to allow flight attendants time to file a report as "many crew members do not feel like they have ample time to fill out a police report, which can take hours to complete."

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They also asked the Justice Department to reveal the number of people it has prosecuted for unruly behavior.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA thanked the lawmakers via Twitter for urging the attorney general.

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