US Attorney General Merrick Garland issued the directive in a memo Wednesday, stating that disorderly travelers are interfering with critical jobs of crews on airlines “that help ensure safe air travel.”
“Passengers who assault, intimidate or threaten violence against flight crews and flight attendants do more than harm those employees; they prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel,” Garland warned.
“Similarly, when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the close confines of a commercial aircraft, the conduct endangers everyone aboard,” he added.
In the order, the Department of Justice transcribed that federal law bans “assaults, intimidation and threats of violence that interfere with flight crews and flight attendants.”
Airlines have seen a massive surge this year in the number of unruly passenger incidents, with over 5,300 instances reported.
On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration revealed the agency received nearly 300 reports of passenger disturbances due to alcohol and intoxication. Well over 3,800 of the total reports stem from passengers refusing to wear face coverings as federally mandated on flights.
Earlier this year, the Transportation Security Administration restarted self-defense courses for flight attendants to combat the increasing number of unruly passengers.
This year, the FAA launched more than 1,000 investigations stemming from complaints — the highest amount recorded since 1995 when the agency began keeping track.
The FAA has also created an information-sharing protocol with the Department of Justice to make sure the Department is aware of criminal conduct happening on flights.
The protocol has led to referring dozens of incidents reported by the FAA to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Garland’s memo noted.
“The Department of Justice is committed to using its resources to do its part to prevent violence, intimidation, threats of violence and other criminal behavior that endangers the safety of passengers, flight crews and flight attendants on commercial aircraft,” Garland announced Wednesday.
According to AAA, the memo came the day before Thanksgiving, as around 48.3 million people were expected to travel at least 50 miles from home over the holiday.
“We want to take people to New Orleans, Seattle, Fort Lauderdale, or to see Grandma,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA international told Axios. “We do not want to take them to jail.”