Recent months have seen a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior.
On January 13, 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered a stricter legal enforcement policy against unruly airline passengers in the wake of troubling incidents. Historically, the agency has addressed unruly-passenger incidents using a variety of methods ranging from warnings and counseling to civil penalties. Under the new zero tolerance policy, the FAA will not address these cases with warnings or counseling. The agency instead pursues legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crew members. These actions and proposed penalties, detailing alleged crimes, are regularly posted on the Homeland Security Today website.
In an effort to promote safe and responsible passenger behavior and bring awareness to the zero tolerance policy, the FAA encourages the widest dissemination of a range of digital products. The most recent is a video where children tell adults how to behave properly. This public service announcement included children expressing their disgust for unruly behavior on planes. The FAA has also now released several memes on social media, one of which features an elderly lady saying “I raised you better than to act that way”, another which depicts a pilot saying “don’t make me turn this plane around”, and a Fight Club meme.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is also seeing a rise in unruly passengers. A 27-year-old California man who caused a disturbance on July 7 during a passenger flight from Los Angeles to Miami has since appeared in federal court on a charge of interfering with flight crew members and attendants.
According to the criminal complaint affidavit, passenger Anthony Kevin Trujillo’s conduct became increasingly disturbing during the July 7 flight. After announcing that he heard a gas leak, Trujillo accused a fellow passenger of storing bomb parts in her socks. Trujillo then accused a flight attendant of carrying improvised explosive device components in his bag and tried to wrestle the bag away from him, says the affidavit.
Two air marshals who were on the flight approached Trujillo and the attendant. After ensuring that there were no explosive device components in the flight attendant’s bag, the air marshals attempted to calm the agitated Trujillo. Despite this, Trujillo got up from his seat and charged down the passenger aisle, towards the front of the airplane, it is alleged. The air marshals stopped Trujillo and, after some resistance from him, eventually secured Trujillo in an area away from other passengers. Air marshals and a flight attendant guarded Trujillo for the rest of the flight.
For about the last hour of the flight, pursuant to the captain’s instructions, all passengers had to keep their hands raised above their heads. Law enforcement boarded the plane once it landed at Miami International Airport.
Trujillo is scheduled for a pretrial detention hearing on Friday, July 16, at 10:00 a.m., in Miami federal magistrate court. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.