By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, Oct 7 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday he had instructed the Justice Department to "deal" with the rising number of violent incidents onboard airplanes, many involving the requirement to wear face coverings.
"I've instructed the Justice Department to make sure that we deal with the violence on aircraft," Biden said at a speech in Illinois. "We're going to deal with that."
To date this year, there have been 4,626 reports of unruly passenger incidents, including 3,366 that were mask-related. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has initiated enforcement actions in 177 cases, issuing more than $1 million in proposed fines. The Justice Department did not immediately comment. Many incidents onboard airplanes have been captured by passengers and posted on social media, drawing significant attention. Last month, two senior U.S. Senate Democrats urged Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate and prosecute unruly air passengers due to the surge in such behavior during the coronavirus pandemic.
In June, a group representing major U.S. airlines such as American Airlines (AAL.O), Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) and United Airlines (UAL.O), and aviation unions also asked Garland to prosecute the growing number of disruptive and violent air passengers.
The letter from Airlines for America said the "incidents pose a safety and security threat to our passengers and employees."
Last month, Delta called on other U.S. airlines to share lists of passengers who have been banned during the COVID-19 pandemic for disruptive behavior to help deter the rising number of incidents. The carrier said during the COVID-19 pandemic it has put more than 1,600 people on its "no fly" list.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson imposed in January a zero-tolerance order on passenger disturbances aboard airplanes after supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump were disruptive on flights around the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack.
That policy will extend until at least as long as federal mask rules on airplanes are in place, which were extended in August into mid-January 2022.
This article originally appeared in Reuters.