“It is well documented that our nation has witnessed a sharp increase in air and airport confrontational behavior, particularly since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic,” five House Democrats wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland this week. “This has led to a dramatic increase in unruly and disruptive passenger behavior onboard aircraft.”
According to the FAA, there have been 4,626 reports of unruly airline passenger incidents this year—over 70% of which were mask-related.That’s why I sent a letter to AG Garland requesting that the DOJ dedicate resources to prosecuting cases of onboard violence. pic.twitter.com/L5vNt8jetO
— Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (@RepEBJ) November 2, 2021
The lawmakers asked Garland to use federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors to “fully investigate” such incidents and prosecute any lawbreakers.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there were 4,626 reports of unruly incidents on planes this year as of October 3. 3,366 of these were related to mask wearing.
In testimony before Congress in September, Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson described attendants being physically and verbally abused, while media reports point to an “epidemic” of air rage since the onset of the pandemic. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has suggested that unruly passengers be hit with “some really harsh penalties and fines,” and told CNN last week that federal flight bans could be “on the table.”
However, the range of incidents considered “unruly” varies from passengers outright assaulting flight staff – as happened aboard an American Airlines flight last week – to a man who refused to pull his mask over his face, choosing instead to “angrily” hold a can of Coca-Cola to his mouth the entire time instead, as one attendant told the Guardian. A number of attendants interviewed by the Guardian cited “white men” as the worst offenders.
While passengers have gotten in trouble for breaking masking rules, airline staff have been scorned and ridiculed for enforcing them in some cases. American Airlines was hammered by conservatives back in September after a flight attendant removed and called the police on a woman and her toddler when the infant refused to wear a mask. The mother said that the crying child was suffering an asthma attack, and had been tested for Covid-19 before the flight.
All passengers above two years old have been required by law to wear face masks in US airports and on planes since February. In September, President Joe Biden announced a doubling in fines for passengers refusing to mask up, with first-time offenders facing a $500 minimum penalty and repeat refusers looking at up to $3,000 in fines.
In an Orwellian twist of words, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administrator David Pekoske said at the time that the harsh fines would “reinforce the importance of voluntary adherence.”
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