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FAA, Justice Dept. say unruly airline passengers will be reviewed for possible charges

FAA, Justice Dept. say unruly airline passengers will be reviewed for possible charges
The federal agencies began discussing in August plans to develop a method for the FAA to refer "the most serious" incidents for potential criminal prosecution. File Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Amid spiking cases of unruly airline passengers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Aviation Administration said that it's working with the Justice Department to crackdown on bad behavior.

In a joint statement emailed to UPI on Thursday, the agencies said they have established an information-sharing protocol for the FAA to refer unruly passenger cases to the FBI for review.

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The federal agencies began discussing in August plans to develop a method for the FAA to refer "the most serious" incidents for potential criminal prosecution. The process allows the FAA to regularly send cases to the FBI for investigation.

The FAA said so far it's sent 37 cases to prosecutors this year, though it's unclear how many have resulted in charges.

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According to FAA statistics, the agency has reported more than 5,000 incidents this year and has levied fines against 227 passengers. The cases referred for prosecution was from those punished with civil enforcement actions, officials said.

In January, the FAA announced a zero tolerance policy for unruly passengers. Thursday, it said the policy has resulted in the overall number of incidents to drop sharply, but added that "the rate remains too high."

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FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a video message that disruptive behavior they are experiencing is a serious disruption to flights. The statement, he said, should serve as both a warning and a deterrent.

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"We are referring the most egregious cases to the FBI for federal criminal prosecution consideration," he said. "This is a priority for both agencies."

Coinciding with the statement, the FAA released a new public service announcement warning passengers of possible consequences.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said it "applauds" the FAA-FBI effort to review cases of passengers behaving badly.

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"Expeditiously referring the most violent, physical assaults against crewmembers and passengers to the Department of Justice for public prosecution is the most effective way to deter bad actors and put a stop to the spike in disruptive passengers," AFA-CWA International President Sara Nelson said in a statement.

Nelson also called for the creation of a centralized no-fly list of bad actors for all airlines. She said that if a passenger physically assaults crewmembers or other passengers on one flight, they pose a threat to all flights.

"They should be banned from flying on all airlines, period," she said.

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The announcement came a day after a group of House Democrats urged the Justice Department to prosecute unruly passengers and to reveal the number of passengers it had so far prosecuted.

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