WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Saturday vowed to take “strong enforcement action” against unruly passengers following reports of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump disrupting flights returning from Washington.
The FAA said it shared the concerns raised by airlines and Association of Flight Attendants.
“I expect all passengers to follow crew member instructions, which are in place for their safety and the safety of flight,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement.
Trump supporters on Wednesday stormed the U.S. Capitol in an assault that was viewed with shock around the world.
Dickson said “unruly passenger behavior … can distract, disrupt and threaten crewmembers’ ability to conduct their key safety functions.” He added the “FAA will pursue strong enforcement action against anyone who endangers the safety of a flight, with penalties ranging from monetary fines to jail time.”
Earlier this week, the flight attendants union said Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol should not be allowed to depart Washington on commercial flights after exhibiting “mob mentality behavior” on flights into the region.
Alaska Airlines said on Friday it banned 14 passengers from future travel with the carrier after “unacceptable” behavior on a flight from Washington to Seattle.
Seattle-based Alaska said a number of passengers on a flight out of Washington late on Thursday “were non-mask compliant, rowdy, argumentative and harassed our crew members.”
This week, U.S airlines and law enforcement agencies bolstered security at Washington-area airports after reports of disruptive behavior by some Trump supporters on flights into the region, which had raised concern about their departure. American Airlines temporarily halted alcohol service on flights departing and arriving in Washington after Wednesday’s events.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was harassed on Friday by supporters of Trump and called a “traitor” at Washington’s Reagan National Airport before departing on a flight, according to videos posted on social media.
The FAA opened more than 1,300 enforcement actions against unruly passengers during the past decade, including recent cases for interfering with and assaulting flight attendants who instructed them to wear masks.
There have been numerous videos posted of unruly behavior on Washington flights, including one American Airlines flight to Phoenix in which the pilot threatened to divert to “the middle of Kansas and dump people off.
(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)