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Airline trade groups are asking the Department of Justice to step up prosecutions of unruly passengers in the wake of 3,000 disruptions already this year

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  • Several airline groups are asking the Department of Justice to crack down on unruly passengers.

  • They want the DOJ to prosecute violators and raise awareness of the consequences of this behavior.

  • So far this year, the FAA has received more than 3,000 reports of disruptive airplane passengers.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Airline trade groups are looking to the Department of Justice for help in cracking down on unruly behavior onboard airplanes.

Ten industry trade associations joined to send a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday, expressing "heightened concern regarding the substantial increase in and growing escalation of passengers' unruly and disruptive behavior onboard aircraft, particularly toward crewmembers," according to the letter.

They asked the department to devote resources to prosecuting violators.

"The federal government should send a strong and consistent message through criminal enforcement that compliance with federal law and upholding aviation safety are of paramount importance," the groups wrote.

Among the signatories is Airlines for America, which represents carriers like Delta, United, American and Southwest.

Besides the DOJ, Airlines for America also wrote a letter to Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson.

"We continue to see onboard behavior deteriorating into heinous acts, including assaults, threats and intimidation of crewmembers that directly interfere with the performance of crewmember duties and jeopardize the safety and security of everyone onboard the aircraft," wrote the association's president and CEO, Nicholas E. Calio. "Despite efforts of the FAA and airlines-including lifetime bans and suspension of onboard alcohol service-the incidents continue and appear to be intensifying."

Calio asked the FAA to refer particularly bad cases of unruly passengers to the DOJ so the federal government can prosecute them. His letter also urges the FAA to raise public awareness of the ramifications of such misbehavior.

"It will send a powerful message if the flying public sees that perpetrators are truly paying hefty fines and are going to jail after being convicted," Calio wrote. "It is important to demonstrate that the penalties are real actions -- not just words."

In a statement to Insider, the FAA said, "The FAA's zero tolerance policy remains fully in place, and we will continue to work with local law enforcement and the DOJ to make it clear that unsafe and unruly behavior simply does not fly."

In January, the FAA implemented a program promising stricter enforcement of its zero-tolerance policy for passenger misconduct. Since then, the agency has received roughly 3,100 reports of unruly passengers and opened investigations into more than 450 of them. More than 2,300 of these reports have to do with passengers refusing to wear masks.

The agency also has announced more than $368,000 in civil penalty actions against 21 passengers to date this year. The FAA has pursued enforcement action, such as fines, more than 400 times through this May. In 2019, this figure was less than 150 for the entire year.

Earlier this month, a Delta Air Lines flight was diverted after a man onboard attacked two flight attendants and threatened to "take the plane down." A few days before, a separate Delta Air Lines flight had to make an emergency landing after a man reportedly tried to breach the cockpit. Last month, a woman onboard a Southwest Airlines flight was seen in a video punching a flight attendant.

On Tuesday, the FAA proposed civil penalties of $124,500 against 8 passengers who allegedly assaulted flight crew, refused to wear masks and otherwise violated regulations.

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