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AG Garland orders tougher crackdown on rowdy airline passengers

The federal government has ordered a tougher crackdown on unruly airline passengers, directing states to prioritize prosecuting rowdy fliers as millions of Americans travel for Thanksgiving. 

US Attorney General Merrick Garland issued the directive in a memo Wednesday, saying disorderly travelers are interfering with critical jobs of crews on airlines “that help ensure safe air travel.”

“Passengers who assault, intimidate or threaten violence against flight crews and flight attendants do more than harm those employees; they prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel,” Garland said. 

“Similarly, when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the close confines of a commercial aircraft, the conduct endangers everyone aboard,” he added. 

In the order, the Department of Justice noted that federal law bans “assaults, intimidation and threats of violence that interfere with flight crews and flight attendants.” 

Airlines have seen a massive surge this year in the number of unruly passenger incidents, with over 5,300 instances reported.

On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration revealed the agency received nearly 300 reports of passenger disturbances due to alcohol and intoxication. Well over 3,800 of the total reports stem from passengers refusing to wear face coverings as federally mandated on flights. 

Garland’s memo claimed that rowdy passengers “prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel.”
Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Earlier this year, the Transportation Security Administration restarted self-defense courses for flight attendants to combat the increasing number of unruly passengers.

This year, the FAA launched over 1,000 investigations stemming from complaints — the most since 1995 when the agency began keeping track. 

The FAA has also created an information-sharing protocol with the Department of Justice to make certain the Department is aware of criminal conduct happening on flights.

The protocol has led to referring dozens of incidents reported by the FAA to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Garland’s memo noted. 

There were over 5,300 unruly passenger incidents last year, according to the FAA.
There were over 5,300 unruly passenger incidents last year, according to the FAA.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

“The Department of Justice is committed to using its resources to do its part to prevent violence, intimidation, threats of violence and other criminal behavior that endangers the safety of passengers, flight crews and flight attendants on commercial aircraft,” Garland said Wednesday. 

The memo came the day before Thanksgiving, as around 48.3 million people were expected to travel at least 50 miles from home over the holiday, according to AAA

“We want to take people to New Orleans, Seattle, Fort Lauderdale, or to see Grandma,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA international told Axios. “We do not want to take them to jail.

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