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Photo: Marco Bello/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Thursday that it has referred 37 of the "most egregious" unruly passenger cases to the FBI for potential criminal prosecution.

Why it matters: Flight crews have faced record numbers of hostile passengers, as travel rebounds to pre-pandemic levels.

  • That's despite the FAA implementing a "zero tolerance" policy on unruly passengers in January in response to the uptick, which includes hefty fines.
  • Much of the spike in passengers disrupting flights with threatening or violent behavior stems from their refusal to wear masks.

By the numbers: "The FAA reported 5,033 incidents of unruly passengers as of November during this year, 3,642 of which were related to mask-wearing," the Washington Post notes.

  • The agency has launched 950 investigations from the total number of incidents reported — "a sixfold increase from last year," per WashPost. That resulted in enforcement action in 227 cases.
  • A survey of nearly 5,000 flight attendants found that more than 85% percent had dealt with unruly passengers in the first half of 2021. 58% had faced at least five incidents this year and 17% reported experiencing a physical incident.

The big picture: The FAA and the Justice Department "established an information-sharing protocol" in August to refer unruly passenger cases to the FBI for review, per a joint statement to news outlets.

  • They're "working closely together to ensure unruly airline passengers face criminal prosecution when warranted."
  • "Where the evidence supports criminal review, the FAA refers the cases to the FBI," the statement added.
  • FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson said in a statement that the referral of the passengers to the FBI should serve as a warning: "If you disrupt a flight, you risk not just fines from the FAA but federal criminal prosecution as well."

What they're saying: Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents almost 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, in a statement welcomed the action.

  • "Expeditiously referring the most violent, physical assaults against crewmembers and passengers to the Department of Justice for public prosecution is the most effective way to deter bad actors and put a stop to the spike in disruptive passengers," Nelson said.
  • "In addition, our union continues to call for the creation of a centralized list of violators who will be denied the freedom of flight on all airlines."
"If a passenger physically assaults crewmembers or other passengers on one airline, they pose a risk to passengers and crew at every airline. They should be banned from flying on all airlines. Period."
— Nelson

Go deeper... Buttigieg: No-fly list "should be on the table" for unruly passengers

Go deeper

Thanksgiving air travel doubles 2020 level

Travelers wait in a long queue at the security checkpoint of Orlando International Airport on Nov. 24. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Transportation Security Administration said it screened more than 2.3 million airline passengers on Wednesday — the highest number since the start of the pandemic and more than double the number of people who passed through TSA security checkpoints on the same day last year.

Driving the news: TSA said last week it expects to screen about 20 million air passengers during the Thanksgiving travel period this year.

Updated 29 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Congressional leaders clinch support for crucial defense bill, debt limit votes

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer passes waiting reporters on Tuesday. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Congress has found a shortcut to pass its annual defense funding bill and raise the debt limit.

Driving the news: The House voted Tuesday night on two major bills — one creating a one-time, fast-track process for the Senate to raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, and another passing its annual defense bill.

House passes annual defense bill

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The House voted to pass the annual defense bill 363-70 on Tuesday night, authorizing nearly $770 billion in funding for defenses and national security programs.

Why it matters: The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) still has to clear the Senate, but the House passage greatly increases the chances that the must-pass defense bill will move through both chambers of Congress before the end of the year.

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