Despite the threat of tens of thousands of dollars in fines, droves of passengers continue to exhibit unruly behavior on flights, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data shows.
There were about 7.1 reported incidents per 10,000 flights for the week ending Sept. 26, according to the FAA's latest figures. Earlier in September, unruly passenger incidents were occurring approximately six times per every 10,000 flights, which had been a 50% drop from figures in early 2021, according to the FAA.
To date, there have been 4,626 unruly passenger reports from flight crews with mask-related incidents accounting for 3,366 of them.
There have been 849 investigations initiated and about 177 enforcement cases initiated, according to the FAA.
At the beginning of the year, the FAA adopted a zero-tolerance policy after seeing a "disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior," the FAA said.
These incidents have stemmed both from passengers’ refusals to wear masks and from recent violence at the U.S. Capitol.
Under the Jan. 13 order signed by FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson, unruly passengers no longer get warnings. Instead, the agency instituted a stricter legal enforcement policy. Penalties can include hefty fines and jail terms for passengers who assault or threaten airline crews or other passengers.
Under the FAA's Reauthorization Bill, the agency can propose up to $37,000 per violation as a repercussion. One reported incident, however, can lead to multiple violations, according to the agency.
"Flying is the safest mode of transportation and I signed this order to keep it that way," Dickson said when signing the order.
However, his threat has still not deterred some passengers. In fact, the FAA issued another $531,545 in civil penalties to another 34 airline passengers in August. To date, the agency has issued more than $1 million in levies for 2021 alone.
As a result of the mounting incidents in 2021, the FAA sent a letter to airports this month urging them to coordinate more closely with local law enforcement to prosecute the cases.
"As the number of passengers traveling has increased, so has the number of unruly and unsafe behavior incidents on planes and in airports," Dickson wrote. "The FAA adopted a Zero-Tolerance policy toward this behavior on airplanes earlier this year, and we are taking the strongest possible action within our legal authority. But we need your help."
While the FAA can propose fines against passengers, the agency can't prosecute criminal cases.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.