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Airlines demand Justice Department prosecute, imprison unruly passengers

Ailan Evans, DCNF

Airlines for America, a group representing U.S. airlines and aviation unions, requested the Justice Department prosecute unruly passengers in a letter Monday.

The letter, addressed to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, calls on the Department of Justice to “commit to the full and public prosecution of onboard acts of violence.” The letter argues that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the regulatory body currently imposing civil penalties on violent passengers, has not been effectively deterring unruly behavior.

“We ask that more be done to deter egregious behavior, which is in violation of federal law and crew member instruction,” the letter said. “Specifically, the federal government should send a strong and consistent message through criminal enforcement that compliance with federal law and upholding aviation safety are of paramount importance.”

The FAA’s Administrator Steve Dickson had attempted to address the problem of airline violence in January, instituting stricter punishments for unruly passengers, including fines up to $35,000 and even imprisonment. While Airlines for America applauded these efforts, it viewed them as insufficient.

The letter instead urged federal prosecutors to take advantage of existing laws that allow for penalties of up to 20 years imprisonment, viewing such punishments as necessary to send “a strong public message of deterrence, safety and security.”

The announcement comes following a rise in violent incidents on passenger aircraft, including the beating of a Southwest flight attendant in May, and a passenger on a Spirit Airlines flight in March attempting to open the emergency exit door, forcing an impromptu landing.

The letter viewed these incidents as representing a “substantial increase” in airplane violence, with the “growing escalation of passengers’ unruly and disruptive behavior onboard aircraft” posing a threat to crew members and passengers alike.

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