- Airlines have reported more than 500 cases of unruly passengers since late December.
- Most cases involve passengers' failure to follow airline and federal mask mandates.
- The FAA will maintain its zero-tolerance policy at least as long as the federal mask mandate is in effect.
The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday said it would continue to crack down on unruly passengers, extending the zero-tolerance policy it implemented in January. Airlines have reported more than 500 cases since late December, according to the agency.
Most of those cases were related to travelers who refused to wear face masks, which both airlines and the federal government require for commercial air travel, the FAA said.
"I have decided to extend the FAA's unruly-passenger zero-tolerance policy as we continue to do everything we can to confront the pandemic," FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement. "The policy directs our safety inspectors and attorneys to take strong enforcement action against any passenger who disrupts or threatens the safety of a flight, with penalties ranging from fines to jail time. The number of cases we're seeing is still far too high, and it tells us urgent action continues to be required."
The FAA will maintain its zero-tolerance policy at least as long as the federal mask mandate is in effect.
Cases of unruly passengers were on the rise on a per capita basis throughout 2020, according to federal data. Flight attendants' unions raised safety concerns about unruly travelers, most notably after the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot at the Capitol.
"Administrator Dickson's strong stand in January for zero tolerance backed us up and this is no time to let down our guard now," said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents some 50,000 cabin crew members at more than a dozen airlines.
"The patchwork, politically skewed discussion around masks has created confusion and conflict," she said in a statement. "We don't have time for failure to comply with the federal mask mandate. On an airplane, that behavior puts everyone at risk and we can't stand for that."