Disruptive Behavior on Board Aircraft has severe consequences

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U.K. CAA Seeks Crackdown on Disruptive Passengers

Hooligans on UK flights behave horrendously

Flight Safety Foundation agrees to need of increased consequences

US prosecution better?


The Flight Safety Foundation headlined the problem with disruptive passengers on aircraft. Here is the story:



The US does not seem to have the same level of drunk passengers, but it has more than its share of onboard incidents. A 2015 USA Today article made findings of a parallel sort:

“Congress grants the Federal Aviation Administration wide latitude to issue hefty fines, up to $25,000, when passengers’ air rage disrupts a flight or otherwise endangers others on board. But, FAA wields that hammer in a small fraction of cases reported by flight crews, according to a review of documents obtained by USA TODAY under the Freedom of Information Act.

Of about 750 flight crew reports filed with the FAA from 2009 to 2013, only one in six have resulted in civil fines so far. The rest included cases where FAA issued a warning letter or investigators couldn’t substantiate flight crews’ complaints. FAA declined to break down the figures or further explain cases that didn’t result in a fine.

When the FAA did levy a fine, more than 83 of the 126 unruly passengers were able to negotiate substantial reductions of hundreds or even thousands of dollars. In 62 incidents, fines that passengers ultimately paid were less than 50% of the original penalty. Three passengers negotiated the fine down to $0.

In the five years’ worth of documents outlining unruly passenger settlements, the FAA levied about $1 million in fines. Ultimately, the agency settled the cases and billed a total of about $435,000 due to passengers proving financial hardship, and other mitigating factors like controlled substance use or mental health. The most serious cases of crime are turned over to the Justice Department for investigation.”

The headline indicates its conclusion- FAA rarely wields hefty penalty hammer with air rage.

Jol A. Silversmith in his article- Federal Criminal Charges Against Unruly Airline Passengers– traces 50 such cases (2012-2014) to their final disposition. Most of the end results are not pleasant.

Aditi Mukherji, JD on November 24, 2013 provided an informative exposition of the consequences of such behaviors:

Potential Criminal Consequences

Federal law prohibits passengers from interfering or physically assaulting(or threatening to physically assault) airline crew members.

This means injuring or intimidating a crew member — or attempting to do so — can result in a felony conviction if the defendant has interfered with the performance of the crew member’s duties.

Using a dangerous weapon — basically, any object that can cause death or serious bodily injury — will result in even harsher penalties.

Apart from assault, a passenger who gets in the way of a crew member’s ability to perform his or her job can be fined by the Federal Aviation Administration or even prosecuted on criminal charges, depending on the severity of the interference.

Flight crew interference incidents can result in up to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to $250,000, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Potential Civil Consequences

Acts of interference that don’t quite rise to the level of criminal conduct can still warrant hefty fines by the FAA.

In fact, the FAA can propose up to $25,000 per violation for unruly passenger cases. One incident can result in multiple violations, according to the FAA’s website.

A slew of disruptive behaviors can be considered interference, including:

  • Flashing a laser beamfrom the ground
  • Physically blocking crew members’ access in the aisle or galley
  • Threatening a crew member
  • Disobeying crew members’ repeated requests

This list is by no means exhaustive. As a general rule of thumb, if the conduct is offensive or disruptive and distracts the crew, it may be considered actionable interference.

The repercussions for passengers who engage in unruly behavior can be substantial, so if an attendant instructs you to do something, you’d best listen up. Otherwise, your next destination could potentially be a jail cell, a courtroom, or the office of an experienced criminal defense lawyer near you.

There is a broader array of crimes that are relevant to aircraft flights;

  1. Aircraft piracy, which is defined as violently taking over an aircraft in flight. This includes an attempt or conspiracy to commit the offense. 49 USC 46502(a).
  2. Aircraft piracy outside the special aircraft jurisdiction of the US. This offense is an extension of the aircraft piracy crime. It is defined as violently taking over an aircraft in flight, including an attempt or conspiracy to do so, where 1) an American is on board; 2) the offender is American; or 3) the offender is later found inside the US. 49 USC 4605(2)(b).
  3. Interfering with security screening personnel in the US. 49 USC 46503. An example of this offense would be assaulting an airport security screener.
  4. Interfering with a flight crew member or attendant. 49 USC 46504. This offense includes assault or intimidation, as well as an attempt or conspiracy to do the same.
  5. Possessing a loaded firearm, explosive, or incendiary device on board an aircraft. 49 USC 46505. The statute makes it illegal to not only possess, but also to place, cause to be placed, or attempt, anyone of these prohibited items on board an aircraft. The prosecution must prove the aircraft was traveling between states (interstate), within a state (intrastate), or in foreign air transportation.
  6. Threatening to commit any one of these offenses, or providing false information concerning any one of these offenses. 49 USC 46507.





This parade of consequences should serve as a warning that on your next flight you consider minimizing your alcoholic consumption before or during the flight.






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