Democratic lawmakers have issued a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland pressing for the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute unruly, disruptive airplane passengers, as cases of confrontational behavior in flight and in airports reportedly increase in 2021.
Tuesday's letter, signed by House Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson, Frederica Wilson, Nikema Williams, André Carson, Jake Auchincloss, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, noted that of the 4,626 reports of unruly passengers incidents this year reported to the Federal Aviation Administration as of Oct. 3, 3,366 were related to mask wearing, over 70 percent of total cases.
"We write today to express our concern regarding the disturbing instances of air and airport passenger rage," the Democrat lawmakers wrote in the letter. "It is well documented that our nation has witnessed a sharp increase in air and airport confrontational behavior, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic," the group added. "This has led to a dramatic increase in unruly and disruptive passenger behavior onboard aircraft toward crewmembers and toward passenger service agents at airports."
The letter also noted that the FAA has instituted a zero tolerance policy against unruly passengers earlier this year that requires "agency safety inspectors to conduct enforcement investigations against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crewmembers."
"To ensure the safety and security of everyone onboard commercial aircraft, the Department of Justice must commit to similarly robust enforcement efforts," the letter states.
The lawmakers pushed for the DOJ to prosecute those who commit crimes while onboard an aircraft and fully investigate all reported aircraft incidents. They also urged for "robust efforts to prosecute those who endanger passengers and crew members," saying it is "necessary to deter interference with safe air travel."
The letter also advocates for quicker methods for crew members to quickly file police reports, noting that many times the reports take too long with strict flight schedules.
"We thank the Department of Justice in advance for your consideration and we respectfully request that you immediately direct federal prosecutors to dedicate the resources necessary to onboard acts of violence," the letter says.
The lawmakers' letter comes as reports have revealed that 37 of the 4,626 reports of unruly passengers have been submitted to the FBI for criminal review.
According to CBS News, the referral to the FBI for potential federal criminal prosecution comes in addition to the more than $1 million total in fines brought against unruly passengers.
"Let this serve both as a warning and a deterrent: If you disrupt a flight, you risk not just fines from the FAA but federal criminal prosecution as well," said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson in the press statement.
"As of Thursday, the FAA has investigated 950 of the 5,033 incidents reported, including 3,642 involving masks. So far, it has initiated enforcement in 227 cases," according to CBS News.
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