In the wake of an ever-increasing number of violent crimes by passengers on commercial airlines, United States Attorney General Merrick B. Garland today ordered attorneys across the country to prioritize the prosecution of anyone who endangers the safety of passengers, flight crews and flight attendants.
“Passengers who assault, intimidate or threaten violence against flight crews and flight attendants do more than harm those employees; they prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel,” Garland said in a release from the Department of Justice. “Similarly, when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the close confines of a commercial aircraft, the conduct endangers everyone aboard.”
The directive comes less than two weeks after several aviation industry officials testified before Congress about the growing violence on flights. The Federal Aviation Administration has received more than 5,200 reports of disruptive passengers this year alone, including incidents where crew members have been bitten, punched in the face and suffered broken bones.
The extraordinary directive goes well beyond measures taken by the FAA to monetarily fine unruly passengers and threatens fliers with jail time. Interrupting or endangering a flight is a federal crime.
“It’s about time! Consequences need to be swift and clear to keep travel safe and protect the people on the frontlines who have worked through all the stresses of this pandemic,” Association of Flight Attendants International President Sara Nelson, who was one of five industry officials to testify before Congress, said in a statement. “We want to take people to New Orleans, Seattle, Fort Lauderdale, or to see Grandma. We do not want to take them to jail. But the DOJ can now make it clear that’s where you’re going if you refuse to cooperate and act out violently on a plane. Straight to jail without passing GO.”
The DOJ also said it will continue an information-sharing protocol between the FAA and the Justice Department, which helps ensure the department is notified about criminal conduct occurring on commercial aircraft. The protocol has already resulted in the referral of dozens of incidents by the FAA to the FBI for investigation.
“The unacceptable disruptive behavior that we’re seeing is a serious safety threat to flights, and we’re committed to our partnership with the DOJ to combat it,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said, according to the Associated Press.
“The Department of Justice is committed to using its resources to do its part to prevent violence, intimidation, threats of violence and other criminal behavior that endangers the safety of passengers, flight crews and flight attendants on commercial aircraft,” Garland added.