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Turbulence Ahead: FAA Refers 22 Unruly Passenger Cases to FBI

By Jake Beardslee · August 9, 2023

In brief…

  • The FAA referred 22 new cases of unruly passenger behavior to the FBI for potential criminal charges, bringing the total number of referrals to 39 so far this year.
  • The incidents include alarming incidents such as sexual assault, making bomb threats, and attempting to breach the cockpit of a plane
  • Other more mundane transgressions include smoking in the bathroom and drinking unauthorized alcohol.
  • The FAA has now referred over 270 cases to the FBI since late 2021.
Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg said the FAA is addressing the issue of unruly passengers "aggressively."   Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia

The Federal Aviation Administration has referred 22 cases of unruly airplane passengers to the FBI dating from late 2021 through early 2023, the agency announced yesterday. These referrals bring the total number of cases sent to the FBI this year to 39.

The incidents include a range of unsettling behavior, according to the FAA, including a passenger attempting to breach the cockpit of a flight in February 2023, and the alleged sexual assault of female passengers in January 2023. Other passenger misconduct includes dropping a bomb threat in October 2022, physical and sexual assault of a minor in July 2022 - as well as more mundane transgressions such as smoking in the bathroom and drinking unauthorized alcohol.

Other passengers were accused of verbal and physical abuse, yelling threats, hurling objects, and even attacking passengers and crew. One individual had to be handcuffed in April after an outburst involving shouting, cursing, and throwing items.

“Unruly behavior poses serious safety concerns for passengers and crew alike, which is why we are addressing this issue aggressively,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a statement. “If you act out on an airplane, you can face criminal prosecution and fines up to $37,000 per violation.”

This latest group of referrals brings the total number of cases submitted by the FAA to the FBI for potential criminal prosecution to over 270 since late 2021. The agency said it will continue working closely with law enforcement to ensure that unruly passengers face appropriate penalties for endangering aviation safety.