Attorney General Merrick Garland has called on U.S. prosecutors across the country to quickly prioritize prosecutions of federal crimes that occur on commercial flights as federal officials face historic number of passenger behavior investigations .
Garland’s memo, released Wednesday, points out that the Justice Department is committed to aggressively prosecuting violent passengers who assault crew members or endanger the safety of other passengers. Federal law prohibits interfering with a flight crew, including assaulting, intimidating, or threatening crew members.
In a statement, Garland said the passengers were doing more than harming employees. “They prevent the execution of critical tasks that help keep air travel safe. Likewise, when passengers commit acts of violence against other passengers within the narrow confines of a commercial aircraft, the behavior endangers everyone on board, ”he said.
A man has been arrested after becoming belligerent on a flight from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. The explosions were captured by another passenger on the flight. American Airlines released a statement saying police were called to the plane to remove the man after landing.
The memo also notes that dozens of incidents have been reported to the FBI by the Federal Aviation Administration – it is investigating certain flight disruptions and may issue civil fines on disruptive passengers – under a “sharing protocol.” information ”between the two agencies.
The FAA said earlier this month that it had launched 950 investigations into passenger behavior on flights this year. This is the highest total since the agency started tracking in 1995. Over the five years from 2016 to 2020, the agency conducted an average of 136 investigations per year.
The agency also said it had referred 37 cases involving unruly air passengers to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution since the number of flight disruptions began to rise in January.
“The unacceptable disruptive behavior that we are observing poses a serious threat to flight safety, and we are committed to our partnership with the DOJ to combat it,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson.
The airlines and their unions have urged the federal government to push criminal prosecutions more aggressively. Airlines have reported more than 5,000 incidents involving unruly passengers this year, including more than 3,600 involving people who have refused to wear face masks as required by federal regulations.
“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 aircraft. flight attendants on commercial aircraft, ”Garland said in the statement. .