Updated Nov 24, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Justice Department to ramp up prosecution of unruly airline passengers

Passengers deplane from an airplane after landing at the Albuquerque International Sunport on November 24

Passengers prepare to exit an airplane after landing at the Albuquerque International Sunport on Nov. 24. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Justice Department directed U.S. attorneys on Wednesday to prioritize the prosecution of airline passengers who have committed federal crimes aboard aircraft.

Why it matters: The department's statement comes amid a surge in unruly passengers incidents, with the Federal Aviation Administration reporting more than 5,000 occurrences this year.

  • The FAA and the DOJ established an information-sharing protocol in August to "ensure the department is notified about criminal conduct occurring on commercial aircraft," per the release.
  • Attorney General Merrick Garland reiterated that federal law prohibits assaults, intimidation and threats of violence, adding that such conduct "endangers everyone aboard."

The bottom line: Passengers who harm "flight crews and flight attendants ... prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel," Garland said in a statement.

  • "The Department of Justice is committed to using its resources to do its part to prevent violence, intimidation, threats of violence ... that endangers the safety of passengers, flight crews and flight attendants," he added.

What they're saying: Sara Nelson, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA international president, said in an emailed statement that consequences need to be swift and clear to keep travel safe.

  • "We want to take people to New Orleans, Seattle, Fort Lauderdale, or to see Grandma. We do not want to take them to jail," she added.
  • 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."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Sara Nelson.

Go deeper