MIAMI – The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has urged US attorneys to prioritize the prosecution of airline passengers who have committed federal crimes aboard aircraft as air travel goes up across the country this Christmas season.

The directive was issued as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported 5,338 rowdy passenger reports to the Department of Justice as of November 23, 2021. A total of 3,856 occurrences involving passengers who broke COVID-19 mask requirements were also reported.

Although the FAA lacks criminal prosecutorial jurisdiction, it has collaborated with the FBI and the Department of Justice to refer cases when needed.

Photo: Chris Sloan

Remarks from US Attorney General


Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a memo to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and all US Attorneys that he is directing US Attorneys to prioritize the prosecution of federal offenses committed aboard commercial aircraft that risk the safety of passengers, flight crews, and flight attendants.

Garland has also asked US Attorneys to emphasize that this is a Departmental priority to the relevant “federal, state, municipal, tribal, and territorial prosecution authorities and law enforcement agencies (including airport authority law enforcement) in their districts.”

The US AG also discussed the seriousness and consequences of disruptive behavior on planes.

“Passengers who assault, intimidate, or threaten violence against flight crews and flight attendants do more than harm those 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.”

American Airlines packed Dreamliner inaugural. Photo: Chris Sloan

What the Federal Law says


Assaults, intimidation, and threats of violence against flight crews and flight attendants, as well as other specific criminal acts that occur during flight, are all prohibited under federal law. Criminal acts on commercial airplanes may also be prohibited under the laws of other jurisdictions.

Last week, the federal court in San Francisco charged a 50-year-old woman from Texas with interfering with an aircraft flight by assaulting a flight attendant. If found guilty, she may face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.


Featured image: Southwest crew/staff. Photo: Southwest Airlines