Clashes over masks make up more than 75% of unruly passenger complaints, new data reveals, as flight attendants describe 'unprecedented violence' on the job

·2 min read
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Passengers are seen during the Pobeda Airlines' tour flight over the Golden Ring of Russia from Vnukovo International Airport on December 20, 2020. Mikhail Japaridze/TASS/Getty Images
  • More than 75% of the FAA's unruly passenger reports in 2021 come from people refusing to wear masks.

  • The FAA has received more than 3,200 reports of unruly passengers so far this year.

  • The new data comes as flight attendants worsening mental health over passenger aggression onboard.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The vast majority of the unruly passenger reports that the Federal Aviation Administration has received this year have come from passengers refusing to wear masks.

The agency has received 3,271 such reports since the start of 2021, according to a press release issued Tuesday. Roughly 2,475 of those reports, or just over 75%, come from passengers defying the federal mask mandate.

The FAA says it has "identified potential violations" in 540 cases so far this year. By comparison, the FAA initiated 183 investigations for all of last year and 146 investigations for the entirety of 2019, the last full year before the pandemic was declared.

The FAA has started to take enforcement action in 83 of this year's cases. Since January, the agency has proposed fines of more than $682,000 against unruly passengers.

As part of the FAA's Reauthorization Bill, the regulator can propose up to $37,000 per violation for unruly passenger cases. Previously, the maximum civil penalty per violation was $25,000. One incident can result in multiple violations.

The new data comes as flight attendants report concerns for their mental health and safety due to growing passenger aggression, which they say stems from a divided political climate, alcohol available onboard, and enforcement of mask mandates. In June, several airline groups expressed their concerns in a letter to the Department of Justice, asking Attorney General Merrick Garland to prosecute unruly passengers. The trade groups also wrote to FAA chief Steve Dickson seeking a larger crackdown on escalating passenger violence.

The Transportation Security Administration recently said it will resume self-defense training for flight attendants starting this month. The training was paused during the pandemic but is restarting to "deter assaults against officers and flight crew," the TSA said.

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