FAA And Airlines Clamping Down On Unruly Passengers


In response to what the agency describes as “a dramatic increase in unruly or dangerous behavior” by passengers on commercial airlines, FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson said, “We will not tolerate interfering with a flight crew and the performance of their safety duties. Period.”

A normal year sees up to 150 recorded cases of dangerous behavior by airline passengers. At just over four months into this year, that number has skyrocketed to 1,300 already, despite the significant decrease in flights due to the continuing pandemic.

Among the instances of disruptive behavior are refusing to wear a mask, excessive drinking, physical or verbal assault, and “political intimidation and harassment of lawmakers,” according to the FAA.

The result is a “zero-tolerance” approach to poor behavior: Passengers who do not comply with federal regulations face potential criminal charges, fines up to $35,000 or, in the case of some airlines, a lifetime ban from travel on their aircraft.

The Transportation Security Administration and Air Marshals have joined with the FAA in their commitment to enforce regulations that protect the safety of other passengers and crew members as air travel ramps up in the summer months.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.


  1. Fine the airlines. Packing people in like cattle, screening them like criminals, packing them in shoulder to shoulder and THEN serving them alcohol? Geese Louise, blaming the paying passengers for frayed emotions or alcohol induced brawls is too funny.

    • Then requiring face coverings? No wonder my company’s charter and aircraft management business has exploded during the past year! Not that I condone crew interference, far from it. But refusing to wear face covering is hardly interference, as long as it doesn’t degrade to physical assault and violence.

  2. Excellent points. Everywhere you turn, people’s patience and willingness to comply with ridiculous rules are being tried to the max by the ongoing impact of the pandemic. The heavy hand of politicians who couldn’t find their rear end with four road maps and a GPS ain’t helping. I see it in drivers on the road, too. People are fleeing the large urban areas and blue States for the same reason … heading to the country or Florida. Down here, I’m now seeing cars with Kalyfornya plates on them … I NEVER saw that before. 2020 has made everyone crazy. It’s now time for authorities to lighten up, too.

    Next thing ya know, the FAA will make Change 4 to FAA Order 2150.3C and include termination to the list of fines. After what they did to Martha Lunken, nothing will ever surprise me. TOO many FAA lawyers … too few ops people with common sense and ALL of ’em have too much power. Tighten the “noose” and people WILL react in the wrong way. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s what drove the spontaneous decision to do what she did.

    I predicted a large turnout for SnF and it happened for that exact reason. People are social animals and pilots wanna see, hear and smell airplanes. I’m betting Airventure will be big this year for that reason, too … despite Avweb’s current poll results.

  3. It is interesting that the three responses to this article are basically similar. I’m guessing that the kernels of truth here are a) the airline policies of high density seating; b) available alcohol; and c) one year of pandemic induced distress; fueled by d) the last presidential administration’s inflammatory behaviors, basically lowering the standards of etiquette and respectful behavior. Solutions would seem to be easy to implement, but at a cost. Airfares would need to increase. But there is no ‘free lunch’. In comparison, in the early to mid 1990’s, flying on coach was a pleasant experience: legroom, complimentary meals, and if you were on a UAL DC-10, a lounge in the rear of the plane outfitted with a small bar. And people uniformly dressed in either business or ‘business casual’. More genteel times indeed.

    • But as has been said, you get nothing for free in this life. Comparatively, the cost for a cross country ticket today is the exact same as it was in the 90’s. Airlines have made up for this by packing more people into the same plane. I, as I’m sure many, would certainly be willing to pay a higher ticket cost for more room. But it seems that once one airline does it, and attains more income in the process, the others can’t seem to help themselves.

    • There are only a certain number of indignities and inane rules that people will suffer before they express righteous indignation. Yea, people will become more “unruly” with increasingly frivolous rules. Duh!

      In China there are no “unruly” people. They know that they DON’T have to fix silly rules, all they need to do is just keep increasing the fines. The FAA and airlines are following that approach….

  4. No one is being harassed into or pressured by any airlines to commercially fly. People do whatever research to decide which airline they are going to ride on. That is usually determined solely on price. Since deregulation of the airlines in the late 70’s we have seen by free market capitalism what is the most important criteria by paying passengers….it’s the cheapest fare. Whatever it takes to be the cheapest is the driver. 40+ years later, the results of cheap fares are in.

    Crowded cabins, over-booking, overhead bins the size of a middle 90’s Lincoln Town Car trunks, no food other than occasional snacks, soda pop, and expensive booze, with added “comforts” of no legroom/hip room/headroom, and a regional system of airlines operating under and for the legacy carriers with names and signage that has nothing to do with the mother airline adding more consumer confusion. Add to this current level of service is long lines generated by previous terrorist activities, namely 9/11 and subsequent global terrorism, now a pandemic, to a growing consumer mindset that rules of proper etiquette and behavior does not apply to them are the norm. At some point, unless the airlines with the potential enforcement threat by the FAA puts their foot down, airliner behavior can quickly escalate to inflight anarchy. 150 incidents increasing to 1300 clearly shows this disturbing trend.

    And essentially people think it’s all the fault of the airlines? Seriously? It’s all the fault of the FAA? Seriously? The airlines in cooperation with the FAA are the basic problem for abhorrent, crappy, cheesy, lousy passenger behavior? Seriously? It’s the FAA’s fault for Martha Lunkin’s bridge escapade? Seriously? Trump or Biden is largely driving personal behavior? Seriously? Airlines in concert with the FAA are the largest contributor to poor airline consumer behavior? Seriously?

    What happened to personal responsibility? Poor behavior seems to be everybody else’s fault. The particular airline’s rules are well known, well published, and expected to be followed. I expect the average citizen to obey stopping at a red light. So far, the vast majority do. But when a growing number finds stopping at a red light is not their responsibility and decide they have a “right” not to comply, somebody will have to either enforce the that traffic law or we all live in an atmosphere of traffic anarchy.

    Violate the mask usage, carryon luggage size, fail to put on a seat belt, don’t put your seat back up and stow tray table, fart, pick your nose, have sex in your seat with yourself, partner, or unwilling seat mate, shout out profanities, overt demonstrations of your particular political allegiance, etc…which of these behavior rules do you ignore and maintain any kind of civility within the cabin? And finally, add to this toxic mix alcohol consumption. It’s OK to behave poorly because you have a couple of cocktails in an 8,000 foot density altitude cabin pressure and you now feel uninhibited enough to disregard the well established boarding regulations? Seriously?

    The purpose of these rules and regulations is to deal with the demonstrated behavior of the least common denominator. It appears the violations of the least common denominator is increasing exponentially potentially becoming the new normal of airline cabin behavior. How do you ignore that and maintain minimum airline cabin civil behavior?

    As a former airline employee, after my last commercial flight in 2008, unless there is no other way to get a particular destination (and there always is), I have stopped flying commercially. I have placed my vote by opting out of commercial flying. Cheap fares combined with increasing consumer spending on cheap fare airlines has forced me to stop using airlines as a mode of transportation. I don’t want to deal with all of the above. No one has forced me into paying for and boarding a modern airliner with such lousy service. I choose not to participate. If enough choose not to participate in flying solely based on cheap fares, the free market system will adjust, with resulting improvements in service. But it is awful hard to fight with the power of the almighty buck.

    We say we want better service. In reality, we accept whatever we get because it is cheap. More want cheap vs a better balance of service, cabin comfort that comes with added cost. We want quality of products of a high end store at a Walmart price. Can’t have both. The consumer has decided. Cheap is the winner so far.

    • Jim, What we have is the complete success of commercial aviation; such a perfect success that airplanes are now indistinguishable from just a faster public bus.

      There is no going back.

  5. Other than the Martha Lunkin bash, I’m in complete agreement with Jim – albeit of the cliff notes version.

    The transmogrification from taking personal responsibility for every aspect of one’s life to becoming a victim and blaming everyone and everything except oneself can inevitably affect the most freedom-loving and bullishly independent among us, to clearly ending up suddenly identifying to snowflakes and powerless dupes. The sweet irony of human behavior, always in flux giving us opportunities to learn about ourselves.

    Sometimes when dealing with each other, particularly in the case here when the wings meets the air, it takes our big boy pants to get along with each other. My support is for the majority of passengers and all flight crews who are just trying to live responsibly and live well with each other.

  6. The mask mandates started with the airline, were made “law” by the politicians in DC. It’s definitely the biggest cause of strife in airports right now. Alcohol a close second.