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FAA administrator: Unruly passenger incidents declining but still "two to three times above where we need to be"

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Posted at 10:07 AM, Sep 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-23 12:08:08-04

Aviation industry leaders will testify before Congress Thursday in a hearing that will explore new ways of reducing the amount of ongoing unruly behavior.

Flight attendants are also expected to testify about the high anxiety many now have from dealing with unruly passengers.

The agency said total fines for a variety of alleged bad behavior in 2021 topped more than $1 million.

Several incidents of assaults on flight attendants, violence between passengers and travelers refusing to wear masks have been documented.

These incidents are happening despite the best efforts of FAA Administrator Steve Dickson who implemented a "zero-tolerance" policy in January when it became clear air travel during the coronavirus pandemic was becoming unpredictable.

"The fines that we have publicized, over $1 million in fines so far, and the communication that we've done with the public have driven those rates down, but there's still a lot of work to be done," Dickson told CBS News' Errol Barnett in an exclusive interview.

Dickson's agency's data shows the number of unruly incidents per flight decreased after fines were announced in February. A public service announcement is being credited for a decline in incidents in the summer.

But with more than 4,300 incidents so far this year and counting, mostly over mask mandates, Dickson acknowledges more action is needed.

"We're still a good two to three times above where we need to be. And so we've still got additional work to do," he said.

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines suspended In-flight alcohol sales at the beginning of the pandemic. Both airlines plan to keep the suspension in place at least until 2022. Dickson credits the ban in helping curb the number of unruly passenger incidents.

"I think the alcohol bans have been helpful. As you said, a lot of these events do have an alcohol component to them, and that has been one aspect that helped us to drive the rate down," he said.

The FAA has asked airports to stop to-go orders for alcoholic drinks. American Airlines says it's making progress stopping the sales at some of their hubs.