Merrick Garland, FBI, And FAA Announce Plans To Work Together Against Non-Mask-Wearing Airline Customers; No Mask Could Lead To Jail Time

Attorney General Merrick Garland has urged U.S. attorneys around the country to prioritize the prosecution of federal crimes that occur on commercial flights as a result of an unprecedented number of investigations into passenger behavior being conducted by federal investigators.

Garland’s memo, which was released on Wednesday, emphasized the Justice Department’s commitment to vigorously prosecute violent passengers who assault crew members or jeopardize the safety of other passengers. Interfering with a flight crew is prohibited under federal law, and this includes attacking, harassing, or threatening members of the crew.

Garland stated in a statement that such passengers do more than just cause problems for employees. “They prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel. Similarly, when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the close confines of a commercial aircraft, the conduct endangers everyone aboard,” he said.

Additionally, the memo notes that the FBI has received reports of dozens of incidents from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — the FBI has investigated some flight disturbances and is authorized to issue civil fines to disruptive passengers — as part of an “information-sharing protocol” between the two agencies.

The FAA announced earlier this month that it has initiated 950 investigations regarding passenger conduct on flights so far this year. This is the highest total recorded by the agency since records began being kept in 1995. During the five years from 2016 to 2020, the agency conducted an average of 136 investigations per year.

Since the number of disruptions began to rise in January, the agency has reported 37 cases involving rowdy airline customers to the FBI for a possible criminal prosecution, according to the FAA.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said, “the unacceptable disruptive behavior that we’re seeing is a serious safety threat to flights, and we’re committed to our partnership with the DOJ to combat it.”

Airlines and their labor unions have urged the federal government to pursue criminal prosecutions more vigorously with the pandemic happening. Over 5,000 occurrences involving rowdy passengers have been reported by airlines so far this year, with more than 3,600 of them involving customers who refused to wear face masks as required by federal law.

Garland said in a statement, “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, flight crews and flight attendants on commercial aircraft.”

Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, expressed her delight at the news.

Nelson said this in a statement: “. Consequences need to be swift and clear to keep travel safe and protect the people on the frontlines who have worked through all the stresses of this pandemic. We want to take people to New Orleans, Seattle, Fort Lauderdale, or to see Grandma. We do not want to take them to jail. But, the DOJ can now make it clear that’s where you’re going if you refuse to cooperate and act out violently on a plane.”

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