Durbin, Cantwell Urge DOJ And FAA To Toughen Actions Against Dangerous Airline Passengers

Senators call for agency coordination and criminal prosecutions if behavior justifies it

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today sent separate letters to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in light of an increase in incidents involving unruly airline passengers. Nearly three-fourths of these incidents have reportedly been related to federal mask mandates and have put passengers and crewmembers in danger. Durbin and Cantwell called on the agencies to coordinate their efforts and ensure qualifying passenger behavior is criminally prosecuted.

“Civil penalties alone are failing to deter criminal activity by airline passengers,” wrote Durbin and Cantwell to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “Robust and public efforts to prosecute those who endanger passengers and crewmembers are necessary to deter interference with safe air travel.   The FAA plays a critical role in investigating and referring criminal incidents to federal law enforcement authorities.”

As of September 14, 2021, there have been 4,284 reports of unruly passenger incidents this year—3,123 of which were mask-related.  Additionally, the FAA has initiated 755 investigations into unruly passengers, which is more than double the investigations for 2019 and 2020 combined.  The FAA has initiated enforcement actions in 154 cases, levying more than one million dollars in fines.

“It is critical that DOJ direct federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors to use these authorities to fully investigate reported incidents on aircraft, and, when supported by the evidence, prosecute those who are criminally responsible,” Durbin and Cantwell wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Durbin and Cantwell also asked for a briefing from DOJ and FAA to inform Congressional oversight of the issue no later than October 11, 2021.

Full text of today’s letter to DOJ is available here.

Full text of today’s letter to FAA is available here.