2021 was the worst year on record for bad airline passengers

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Photo: Joe Raedle (Getty Images)

Last year, it might have seemed like airline passengers were more rowdy than usual due to the sheer volume of notable incidents recorded on camera phones and posted on social media. Now there are statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration to prove that 2021 hasn’t just been worse than usual. 2021 was the worst year for passenger incidents since statistical recording began by a wide margin.

In 2021, the FAA opened 1,081 investigations in the unruly behavior of passengers. The average of the previous decade (2011-2020) was 142 surveys per year. The worst previous year on record was 2004, when the FAA opened 310 investigations.

The face mask requirement imposed by the Transportation Security Administration is absolutely the reason for the unprecedented rise in chaos at airports across the country and various airlines. There were 5,981 reports of unruly passenger behavior in 2021, and 4,290 of those incidents were related to the TSA’s face mask policy, 71.7% of all reported incidents of unruly passenger behavior.

It is also important to note that the FAA has launched a “zero tolerance” policy towards misbehaving air passengers in mid-January 2021. The agency stopped offering warnings or advice to violators and immediately stepped up legal action against those who vociferate (and on opportunity violently) disobey airline crew members. The FAA also released corny government-sanctioned memes as part of the policy’s introduction.

Image for article titled 2021 was the worst year on record for bad airline passengers

Graphic: FAA

The government is considering tougher penalties for unruly passengers beyond a monetary fine, ranging from removing TSA PreCheck clearance to added to a federal no-fly list. Pete Buttigieg, the Transport Secretary, said CNN:

“It is completely unacceptable to mistreat, abuse or even disrespect flight crews. We will continue to review all options to ensure flight crews and passengers are safe. There is absolutely no excuse for this kind of treatment of flight crews in the air or any of the essential workers – from bus drivers to air crew who get people where they need to be.

The federal requirement for transport face masks will remain in place until at least March 18, 2022. And unless the pandemic changes drastically over the next two months, the mask policy isn’t expected to change after March 18.

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