Ministry of Justice to prioritize prosecution of violence on flights
Washington Attorney General Merrick Garland has directed US prosecutors across the country to quickly prioritize the prosecution of federal crimes occurring on commercial flights as federal officials face a historic number of investigations into passenger behavior.
Garland’s memo, released Wednesday, confirmed that the Department of Justice is committed to prosecuting violent passengers who assault crew members or endanger the safety of other passengers. Federal law prohibits interference with the cabin crew, including assaulting, intimidating, or threatening crew members.
In a statement, Garland said these passengers are doing more than just harming staff. “They prevent the performance of important duties that help ensure safe air travel. Likewise, when passengers commit acts of violence against other passengers within the narrow confines of a commercial airliner, such behavior puts everyone on board at risk.”
The memo also notes that dozens of incidents have been reported to the FBI by the FAA — it investigates some flight disruptions and can issue civil fines to passengers who are inconvenient — as part of an “information-sharing protocol” between the two agencies.
The Federal Aviation Administration said earlier this month that it had opened 950 investigations into passenger behavior on flights this year. This is the highest total since the agency began tracking it in 1995. In the five years from 2016 through 2020, the agency generated an average of 136 investigations per year.
The agency also said it has referred 37 cases of disorderly airline passengers to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution since the number of flight disruptions began to rise in January.
“The unacceptable disruptive behavior that we see presents a serious threat to the safety of flights, and we are committed to our partnership with the Department of Justice to combat it,” said Steve Dixon, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Airlines and their unions lobbied the federal government to press more forcefully for criminal prosecution. Airlines have reported more than 5,000 incidents involving riotous passengers this year, with more than 3,600 of those involving people refusing to wear face masks as required by federal regulations.
“The Department of Justice is committed to using its resources to do its part to prevent violence, intimidation, threats of violence and other criminal behavior that endangers the safety of passengers, cabin crew and flight attendants on commercial aircraft,” Garland said in the statement. .
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