FAA Urges Airports to Combat Unruly Passengers by Stopping Alcohol Sales

Liz Carey

Washington, D.C. (WorkersCompensation.com) – The Federal Aviation Administration is asking U.S. airports to stop selling alcohol as a way to combat the recent increased numbers of unruly passengers.

In an August 3 letter to airports, Steve Dickson, FAA Administrator, asked airports to act in light of a spike this year in the number of incidents with unruly passengers. In the letter, Dickson asked airport police to arrest people who are unruly or violent on flights and for airport bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol in “to go” cups.

Since January of this year, airlines have reported a stark increase in the number of incidents with unruly passengers. As of August 1, the number of unruly passenger incidents this year was 3,715. Of those, more than 2,700 were mask-related incidents.

Dickson said that while the FAA had adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward unruly behavior on airplanes earlier this year, they are asking airports for help in curbing them.

First, he wrote, since the FAA has no authority to prosecute criminal cases, law enforcement must prosecute those who become unruly on planes.

“Every week, we see situations in which law enforcement was asked to meet an aircraft at the gate following an unruly passenger incident,” he wrote. “In some cases, flight attendants have reported being physically assaulted. Nevertheless, many of these passengers were interviewed by local police and released without criminal charges of any kind. When this occurs, we miss a key opportunity to hold unruly passengers accountable for their unacceptable and dangerous behavior.”

Dickson said that the agency’s investigations into the spike in aggressive behavior on-board points to alcohol as a contributing factor.

Most recently, on July 31, flight attendants and passengers on a Frontier Airlines flight duct-taped a passenger to his seat after he became unruly.

The unruly passenger was identified by authorities as 22-year-old Maxwell Berry. He was arrested after the flight landed in Miami and is now facing three counts of battery.

Officials said 22-year-old Maxwell Berry had two drinks on board the flight, then groped two flight attendants and punched another in the face.

In June, a passenger assaulted a flight attendant, punching them in the face and knocking out two of their teeth on a Southwest flight. Several major airlines, including American Airlines and Southwest have placed a ban on serving alcohol on flights because of unruly passengers. That ban is expected to be lifted in mid-September, but some flight attendants are not so sure lifting the ban is a good idea.

“Certainly with the number of incidents you can tell why flight attendants would feel leery about beginning to sell alcohol onboard the aircraft again,” Lyn Montgomery, a spokesperson for the union that represents Southwest flight attendants said, according to ABC News.

In his letter, Dickson asked airports to discontinue allowing airport concessionaires to offer alcohol “to go”, as it leads to passengers becoming inebriated prior to getting on the flight.

“Even though FAA regulations specifically prohibit the consumption of alcohol aboard an aircraft that is not served by the airline, we have received reports that some airport concessionaires have offered alcohol ‘to go,'” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson wrote to airport leaders nationwide. “And passengers believe they can carry that alcohol onto their flights or they become inebriated.”

The FAA will continue to enforce its zero-tolerance policy for in-flight disruptions, Dickson said. Those policies could lead to fines as high as $52,500 and up to 20 years in prison. So far, the agency has investigated more than 628 potential violations of federal aviation law. Of those, 99 have seen enforcement initiated.

According to a recent survey by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA Union, 85 percent of the 5,000 members surveyed said they had to deal with unruly passengers this year, and more than half (58 percent) reported having been involved in at least five incidents this year. One in five of the respondents reported at least one physical incident.

Both the union and the FAA found that alcohol was a contributing factor to the disturbances.

The union called on the FAA to do more to protect flight attendants and passengers from unruly passengers.

“What we have seen on our planes is flight attendants being physically assaulted, pushed, choked,” Sara Nelson, the president of the flight attendants’ union. “We had a passenger urinate. We had a passenger spit into the mouth of a child on board. These are some of the things that we have been dealing with.”

Nelson added that rates of such behavior have been “off the charts” compared to the last 20 years.

Statistics from the FAA show that in 1995, there were 148 investigations for unruly passenger incidents. That rose to a high of 310, in 2004 before dropping to a low of 146 in 2019. So far in 2021, there have been 628, a 332 percent increase.

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