Incidents involving irregular passengers in the United States are declining.
But the good news may end there.
According to the US Federal Aviation Administration, in 2021 there were reports of an average of about 500 unmanned passengers per month. According to FAA figures, in the first three months of 2022, that number dropped to about 350 reports per month.
This progress, especially considering that there are far more flights than in early 2021, when incident reports reached an all-time high.
However, it is still far from the number of log-in-flight outbursts before the epidemic, which occurred about 10 times a month from 2014 to 2019, according to CNBC calculations.
Why anarchy is skyrocketing
In 2021, about 3 reports of 4 unregulated passengers were related to mask consent, according to the FAA, which monitors flights departing or arriving from the United States.
For some, refusing to wear a mask has become both a political statement and a marker of personal autonomy, said Sharona Hoffman, co-director of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.
Many of these people do not want to be told what to do, and the flight is “an environment where what they have to do – all the time – is called for hours.”
Anger in a non-friendly sky is also a manifestation of anger on the ground, he said. For every video of an airline passenger losing it on a flight, there are groceries, school board meetings, banks and others in the parking lot.
Hoffman said the coveted arrangements have added to the pressure of flying. At one point food, drinks and snacks were taken away, “so all the things that would confuse and entertain people were removed,” he said.
Brian Del Monte, president of The Aviation Agency, a marketing company in the aviation industry, agrees that there may be pressure to increase disobedience.
“However, I’m under enough pressure and somehow, I don’t eat bananas on the plane, I don’t punch the flight attendant out … when 20-30 people film it,” he said.
Why people continue to act
Threats or interference with the responsibilities of a crew member can result in fines, flight bans, federal criminal charges, and jail time. Because most passengers are equipped with video cameras on their phones, there is a risk of becoming an unintentional star of a viral video, which – and has – led to termination of employment and deportation.
What could be a devastating public tram for one person, however, could be a heroic act for another, Hoffman said, quoting many who want to be the “heroes of masked lawyers.”
Last week, a woman was dropped off on a Southwest Airlines flight from Dallas after refusing to wear a mask. Before he left, now a viral video shows him comparing himself to Rosa Parks and Anne Frank.
“People get angry on the flight because they feel they can … We have a place for people who believe they can do it whenever they want. It’s called prison,” said Aviation Agency’s Del Monte.
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Others don’t think the rules apply to them, Hoffman said, “People are accustomed to thinking they’ll get an exception,” which could be the case with their vaccine mandate.
Although people are at high risk for misconduct on commercial flights, Hoffman said, “people commit crimes all the time.”
Most do not think they will be caught or punished, he said.
Rarely face music
They may be right.
Of the 1,091 unmanned passenger reports this year, less than 30% have been investigated and only 15% have been “enforced action,” according to the FAA. Still, this is more than the report of 6% of the results of enforcement action in 2021, Del Monte said.
“Enforcement action” now means proposed fines, an FAA spokesman told CNBC. In the past, this included caution and advice, but it ended under the FAA’s “Zero Tolerance” policy, which began in January 2021.
Maximum fines have also been increased – from $ 25,000 to $ 37,000 per violation – and one incident can result in multiple violations, according to the FAA.
But that’s not enough, said Del Monte, who said more should be done.
“Fining these people is clearly not a barrier,” he said. “Mostly [of] It doesn’t matter if they are $ 300, $ 3,000, $ 30,000 or $ 3 million. They are proof of the verdict. “
Even fewer people face criminal charges, he said. The FAA, which lacks criminal prosecution authority, said it had referred 37 irregular passengers to the FBI last November. Towards the end of that month, Attorney General Merrick Garland instructed U.S. attorneys to prioritize federal criminal justice on commercial planes.
Will bad behavior end soon?
Since most of the problems are related to masks, reports of disobedient passengers are likely to decrease once the mask mandate expires, Del Monte said.
Masks are no longer required at several major European airlines, and the federal mandate expires on April 18 in the United States. Asia, on the other hand, is expected to hold the mandate longer News of uncontrolled aircraft in the region remains rare thanks to a culture of wearing a mask that precedes the epidemic.
Even with the mandate gone, events are unlikely to return to pre-epidemic numbers, Del Monte said.
The FAA said it had proposed a 5 million fine in 2021 against unmanned passengers.
Lindsay Nicholson | Universal Image Group | Getty Images
According to the FAA, about 28% of U.S. troubled passenger reports in 2021 were not related to masks. Ignoring mask-related incidents altogether, the incidence of irregular commuters last year still increased by about 1,300% compared to the previous five years of the epidemic, according to CNBC calculations.
The most violent onboard attack has “nothing to do with the mask,” said Sarah Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, in a statement issued Feb. 15 in support of the centralized list of banned passengers shared between airlines.
Still, Del Monte says the problem is unlikely to go away any time soon.
“I sincerely suspect that the unconscious sod will suddenly calm down in the absence of a mask, an expert in both epidemiology and the rule of law,” he said. “That person will undoubtedly find some other minor wrongdoing to create a situation in which he will be fined or imprisoned.”
Also, airlines may then have to contend with another mask problem – the “radicalization” of flyers who want to continue the mandate.
“They can replace those who refuse to wear masks because they are disobedient,” he said.