FAA, FBI Continue Partnering On Unruly Passenger Cases


The FAA says that it referred at least 17 cases involving allegedly unruly airline passengers to the FBI for criminal prosecution review during the first quarter of 2023. The referrals continue a partnership between the agencies that was stepped up in 2021 in response to a dramatic increase in reports of violently unruly passengers that year. Unruly passenger cases investigated by the FBI in typically involve crimes such as assault, interference with flight crew members, sexual misconduct and theft.

“The rate of unruly passenger incidents has dropped by over 80 percent since record-highs in early 2021 but unacceptable behavior continues to occur,” the agency said. “The FAA pursues legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crewmembers, and can propose civil penalties up to $37,000 per violation.”

The number of unruly passenger reports received by the FAA jumped from 1,009 in 2020 to 5,973 in 2021. In 2022, the agency received 2,455 reports that resulted in 831 investigations, initiation of 567 enforcement actions and $8.4 million in fines. The FAA noted that it has referred more than 250 unruly passenger cases to the FBI since late 2021.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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    • Seems I recall the spike in incidents started with the airline mask mandate. According to the article reports have dropped 80%, which would seem to be correlated to the timing of the mask mandate being removed. I’d hazard to guess we are returning to the drunks and a holes pre COVID levels of idiocy which would be “normal” levels. Since now the FBI is involved, that would indicate higher levels of enforcement with “normal” levels of idiocy. Doesn’t sound like an emerging threat.

  1. Seems like the FBI ought to have bigger fish to fry than unruly passengers. Terrorists yeah, not some A hole complaining about a kid kicking the seat back, or the guy who didn’t get an extra bag of peanuts.

    • There is nothing for the FBI to “investigate” in a closed area, with a hundred eye/ear witnesses, all with cell phone video. You really do not even need to use the term “suspect” in these cases.

    • Your assessment is short of reality. This is about passengers threatening or causing harm to others while confined to a small tube traveling 600 mph at high altitude. You can’t pull over to the curb and dial 911 and expect law enforcement to be there in a few minutes. The incidents being investigated are the worst of the worst, and are often reported after the flight is forced to divert and the perpetrator arrested. With thousands of flights a day and millions of passengers flown, there are many more “incidents” that are never reported.

  2. Enforcement – Good. Is the FBI necessary because most flights cross state lines?

    However, I don’t trust the FBI.

  3. I think much of the rise was due to mask related aggravation pushing people who were close to the edge over it. Now we are back to baseline human misery.

  4. My favorite part was “initiation of 567 enforcement actions and $8.4 million in fines.”. But, how much was actually collected? They get in front of a judge and tell a sob story and they knock it down from the proposed tens of thousands to $250.00…a lot less than some speeding tickets. BTW, I bet the FAA spent a little more than that investigating the incident.