FAA keeps zero tolerance policy for unruly travelers even after judge scraps mask mandate

Passengers wearing protective masks masks board a Boeing Co. 737-800 operated by Avelo Airlines ahead of the airline’s inaugural flight at Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) in Burbank, California, U.S., on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.

Bing Guan | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration is maintaining its zero tolerance policy for unruly passenger behavior even after a federal judge struck down the Biden administration’s mask requirements for public transportation this week.

After the Transportation Security Administration said the mask-mandate policy would no longer be enforced, airlines announced masks would become optional, effective immediately.

Disputes over masks accounted for more than 70% of the record 5,981 reports of disruptive passengers the FAA received last year.

The FAA introduced the zero tolerance policy in January 2021 in response to a surge in reports of unruly travelers from airlines and flight attendants. That policy calls for hefty fines and potential criminal prosecution for such behavior that previously might have spurred warnings or counseling.

Flight attendants and their unions have reported a surge in verbal abuse and physical assault by passengers during the pandemic.

The agency has referred 80 cases to the FBI, it said.

“Behaving dangerously on a plane will cost you; that’s a promise,” acting FAA Administrator Bill Nolen said in a statement. “Unsafe behavior simply does not fly and keeping our Zero Tolerance policy will help us continue making progress to prevent and punish this behavior.” 

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