The numbers of unruly passenger incidents on aircraft has fallen for the first time since the pandemic, following last month’s ruling by a US federal judge that enforced mask wearing on public transport was unlawful . The decision proved a victory for flight attendants who, having been instructed to enforce the mask mandate, had been subject to a range of physical and verbal abuse.
Airlines were able to drop the mandate last month when a Floridan federal judge outlawed the policy on 18 April. The ruling outlined that the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) had overstepped and exceeded its authority by establishing the mask mandate. The policy had been implemented during the Biden Administration in January 2021.
Data released by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) showed that in the first week following the lifting of the mask mandate there was a rapid reduction in unruly passenger cases. This was the first reduction in numbers since the pandemic started. Additionally, the majority of cases before the mandate had been removed consisted of disputes over the wearing of masks.
In 2021, the FAA documented the highest number of cases of unruly passenger behavior since they began measuring it in 1995. It recorded 1,113 investigations and enforced action against 350 passengers in 2021. Before this, the FAA had not measured more than 200 complaints in a year since 2005. They also reported that more than 70% of all cases in 2021 were over the wearing of masks.
Despite the removal of the mandate, the FAA has expressed a continuation of its ‘zero-tolerance’ policy for passengers who misbehave. The policy, which has been enforced since January 2021, issues fines to passengers for their first offence, as opposed to the usual warning letters. The agency has also outlined that it will work with the Transport Security Administration (TSA) to revoke TSA PreCheck from passengers who were previously fined.
Airlines were quick to support the removal of the mask mandate with Delta and American airlines acting quickly to remove the requirement from their planes. In a statement released by Delta the day after the mandate was released, the company said that masks would be optional for both cabin crew and passengers. It highlighted that the choice to wear a mask was entirely up to the individual and both options would be accepted on their flights. Additionally, American airlines also released a statement explaining that the wearing of masks were now optional on their flights.
The Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen explained in a statement last month, “Keeping our zero-tolerance policy will help us continue making progress to prevent and punish this behavior.”
The data reflects a positive shift in air travel, with both passengers and cabin crew benefiting from the changes. This is evident in the demand for flights, which has soared since the mandate was removed. Now that staff are facing less danger, airlines should focus on the current influx of business. With high demand for travel alongside reduced covid-19 restrictions, now is the time to ensure that the industry can recover from the pandemic.
Photo: PIERRE CROM, GETTY IMAGES