Airline industry wants Department of Justice to crack down on disruptive passengers

The airline industry is fed up with out-of-control passengers, and now they’re calling for the Justice Department to start prosecuting unruly flyers.

READ MORE: Aggressive behavior skyrocketing on planes

Videos of passengers behaving badly and in some cases, violently, have gone viral, including a woman who punched a Southwest flight attendant and knocked out her teeth last month.

In the wake of such incidents, airline groups sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting the Justice Department prosecute these cases to the fullest under federal law. 

Ben Glassman, who spent years with DOJ as an assistant U.S. attorney and then U.S. Attorney, said the agency can take on these cases – they have before, but it’s rare.

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"I think that the airlines have a pretty good point. This is the kind of situation, in my opinion, where a public investigation and prosecution of unruly passengers that everybody has seen the incidents on Twitter or the Internet, I think could send a really strong deterrent message," Glassman said.

The letter by the airline industry groups states that federal penalties include up to 20 years in prison. 

Since January, the FAA has received over 3,000 reports of unruly behavior – primarily people refusing to wear masks.

‘Get off the plane’: Passengers scold woman refusing to wear mask on flight

While masks are being discarded by most institutions, they’re still required at airport and on airplanes.

For now, that policy will be in place until mid-September.

The FAA has pursued enforcement action over 400 times in the first five months of this year, compared to 147 times for all of 2019.

Ben Mutzabaugh, senior aviation editor for The Points Guy, says incidents may even get worse this summer with a surge of people traveling and experiencing the typical headaches and stress that can come with flying. 

"If you introduce that combustible mix into a plane and someone’s mad about wearing a mask or feel like they shouldn’t have to and flight attendants have to enforce this, it’s not an optional thing for them, it just sets the stage for conflict," said Mutzabaugh.