Journal of Air Law and Commerce


Unruly passengers aboard commercial flights have become a critical issue for consumer airliners, federal agencies, and other key commercial aviation stakeholders. In the past few years, unruly passenger confrontations rose exponentially. Through a patchwork of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulatory fines, civil penalties, and criminal sanctions, there are enforcement measures available to combat unruly passengers. However, this complex mix of regulations and statutes fails to clearly outline which agencies will be responsible for which types of conduct and what the appropriate penalty will be. Not only does this tangle of enforcement measures confuse and hinder prosecution of unruly passengers, it fails to provide fair notice to airline passengers of what constitutes prohibited unruly conduct and the corresponding penalty for violations.

This Comment puts these issues at the forefront by examining the current state of the FAA and Department of Justice (DOJ) enforcement framework, and it proposes a more streamlined model as an alternative. The current FAA enforcement process is outlined in FAA Order Number 2150.3C and requires FAA enforcement counsel to use multiple matrices to determine the appropriate violation and sanction to impose. This complicated procedure is subject to a great deal of discretion by FAA enforcement counsel and accounts for a wide range of prohibited behaviors. Similarly, the statutes often used by the DOJ in unruly passenger enforcement cases include a broad range of available sanctions from civil penalties to incarceration. However, DOJ enforcement, triggered by an FAA referral, largely follows normal litigation proceedings rather than the agency adjudication proceedings used by the FAA. Instead of this complicated overlay of statutes and regulations, the proposed model uses a tiered schedule to identify prohibited unruly passenger behavior, the agency responsible for enforcement, and the appropriate penalty for violations. This proposed model will enhance fair notice to passengers and untangle the confusion amongst federal agencies and commercial aviation stakeholders created by the current unruly passenger enforcement process.



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