According to the latest FAA statistics, less than 6% of unruly passengers actually get fined leaving many to wonder if this policy really matters at all.
The “travel freakout” has, sadly, become a mainstay of travel in the pandemic. Wild videos of (usually) unmasked passengers engaged in bad behavior emerge almost every day. Indeed, the FAA reported that nearly 6,000 incidents involving unruly passengers occurred in 2021, and 72% of those were directly related to mask-wearing issues.
In far too many cases, these incidents will turn violent, putting crew members’ and fellow passengers’ lives at risk.
As it turns out, despite the huge increase in occurrences, the punishment – at least at the federal level – is largely toothless. Only 350 of the 5,891 incidents that occurred in 2021 were actually referred for formal fines. A paltry 5.84%.
In other words, the actual chances of getting punished for an incident are pretty rare – at least from the federal government. What is likely more effective is the inevitable ban the airline will place on the passenger involved in the incident. For example, Delta Airlines has around 2,000 passengers on an internal no-fly list. Fine or no fine, the potential embarrassment of going viral in an in-flight incident coupled with a lifetime ban on the airline may deter some passengers from joining the ranks of the travel freakouts that have come before them.
The reason the government can’t seem to get their “fine machine” in motion seems to be about staffing and government bureaucracy. Apparently, the FAA teams charged with this activity are understaffed and simply don’t have the time to deal with the inordinate amount of effort, at least according to a TravelPulse report.
Despite the low numbers of fines in the FAA’s anti-violence program, the program does seem to be bearing some fruit as the FAA reported a 50% drop in unruly passengers in the back half of 2021. Maybe the overall program isn’t so bad after all.
Of the 350 that were referred for fines, they were some of the more serious incidents where violence was involved which gives industry insiders and exhausted flight crews some hope that the fines will serve as a deterrent.
Many believe that lifting the mask mandate will immediately decrease travel tension and reduce the number of in-flight incidents. The issue comes up for review on March 18 and many are calling for its removal altogether.