WASHINGTON, D.C. — A spate of incidents this week involving supporters of President Donald Trump disrupting flights and refusing to wear face masks has prompted U.S. aviation regulators to vow “strong enforcement action.”
Federal Aviation Administration chief Steven Dickson issued a statement Saturday saying the agency takes unruly actions by airline passengers seriously.
“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,” said Dickson, himself a former airline pilot.
Federal law includes multiple requirements that passengers obey safety commands from flight attendants and pilots, and the FAA monitors reports of violations, Dickson said. “This includes unruly passenger behavior, which can distract, disrupt and threaten crew members’ ability to conduct their key safety functions,” he said.
Alaska Airlines Inc. said it had banned 14 passengers after a rowdy flight from an airport near Washington, D.C., to Seattle on Thursday — a day after a huge crowd encouraged by President Donald Trump stormed Congress. The passengers refused to wear required face coverings and harassed crew members, the company said.
Numerous other incidents on flights were reported on social media as the Trump supporters traveled to Washington and flew home after Wednesday’s events. Flight attendant unions have also issued press releases condemning the behavior.
Flight attendants on American Airlines Group Inc. were forced to confront passengers who were harassing others for their political views, said Julie Hedrick, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.
“This behavior is unacceptable, and flight attendants should not have to deal with these egregious incidents,” Hedrick said in a press release.
All U.S. airlines now require face coverings as a protective measure against the spread of coronavirus. While there isn’t a federal law requiring masks, the FAA last month proposed fines against two people who allegedly assaulted crew members over their refusal to wear them.
Video also surfaced this week of Trump supporters verbally harassing lawmakers at airports, including Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.