WASHINGTON - The Federal Aviation Administration has rolled out a dramatic new public service announcement to underscore the issue of unruly passengers.
The PSA, posted on Twitter, features audio calls from pilots reporting disturbances from disruptive flyers while in mid-flight. In the background, you can hear screams coming from the passenger cabin.
"We’ve got a disruptive customer in the back," one pilot reported.
"Declared an emergency. We’d like to divert," another pilot said.
The PSA ends with the caption, "You don’t want your pilots distracted. Unruly behavior doesn’t fly."
FAA said since Jan. 1, authorities have received 3,988 reports of unruly passengers. More than 2,900 of those calls regarded passengers who refused to wear a mask as mandated by federal law to prevent COVID-19 spread. Six hundred and ninety-three calls prompted an investigation and 132 cases resulted in penalties.
Rowdy airline passengers have now racked up a record $1 million in potential fines this year, a toll of the tumult in the sky as travelers have returned after most were grounded by the pandemic in 2020.
Alcohol is another common factor regarding unruly passengers. American Airlines on Thursday extended its ban on alcohol sales in the main cabin through Jan. 18, matching the timing of the federal mask mandate. American still sells alcohol to passengers in business and first-class sections.
On a JetBlue flight in May, a man threw his carry-on bag at other passengers, grabbed a flight attendant by the ankles and put his head up her skirt before he was restrained with plastic ties. The FAA wants to fine him $45,000.
The FAA is seeking a $42,000 fine against a passenger who refused to wear a mask on another JetBlue flight in May and threatened other passengers, including making stabbing gestures toward some. Crew members confiscated a bag containing a substance the man was snorting, then armed themselves with ice mallets before police took him off the plane.
The FAA did not identify any of the passengers, including a man who allegedly punched a flight attendant in the nose during a third JetBlue flight. Although police were called in several cases, it was not clear how many of the passengers called out by the FAA face criminal charges.
This month, the head of the FAA asked airport officials around the country to work with local law enforcement to prosecute more cases. The FAA does not have the authority to file criminal charges.
Nearly one in five flight attendants say they have witnessed physical incidents involving passengers this year, and their union is calling for criminal prosecution of people who act up on planes.
The FAA announced a "zero-tolerance" policy against disruptive behavior on flights back in January.
Air travel in the U.S. has returned to nearly 80% of pre-pandemic levels, but airlines have cut the number of flights by a similar amount, resulting in crowded planes.
Bad weather and lack of crews after airlines cut staff last year have contributed to tens of thousands of canceled and delayed flights this summer, according to figures from tracking service FlightAware, making travel even more stressful than before.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.