The federal mask mandate for air travel and other mass transit is, at least for now, over.
But the FAA isn’t doing away with its zero-tolerance policy against unruly airline passengers, which was put in place in January 2021, in large part to curtail the spate of mask-related incidents.
Instead, on Wednesday the agency announced that it will make the policy permanent.
“Behaving dangerously on a plane will cost you. That’s a promise,” acting FAA administrator Billy Nolen said in a prepared remark. “Unsafe behavior simply does not fly, and keeping our zero-tolerance policy will help us continue making progress to prevent and punish this behavior.”
Prior to enacting the policy, the FAA had typically addressed unruly-passenger incidents by starting with warnings and counseling. Under the zero tolerance, the agency dropped those steps and now moves straight to legal enforcement against passengers who assault, threaten, intimidate or interfere with crew members.
This year, the FAA had received 1,233 reports of unruly passengers as of April 19, including 797 related to masks. The agency had initiated 370 investigations and 192 enforcement actions.
The unruly-passenger incidence rate has dropped by more than 60% since last January, the FAA said.
Most unruly passengers are punished with fines, but the agency has also referred 80 cases to the FBI for criminal review. The FAA said it is also working with the TSA to revoke PreCheck membership from unruly passengers who are fined for their behavior.
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