WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson signed an order on Wednesday (Jan 13) directing the agency to take a "zero tolerance policy" after supporters of US President Donald Trump were disruptive on some recent flights.
Dickson told Reuters the FAA's special emphasis programme would last through March 30 and warned disruptive passengers could face up to US$35,000 (S$46,473) fines and possible jail time. He emphasised the agency will not issue warning letters or negotiate penalties.
"We will no longer adjudicate certain of these unruly passenger cases with counselling or warnings. We're going to go straight to enforcement," Dickson said in an interview.
He said he briefed airlines on the new policy. "We've seen a disturbing increase in these incidents... We'll take the strongest possible enforcement action against any passenger who engages in it."
Dickson said the FAA could refer cases for criminal prosecution to the Justice Department, which could seek sentences of up to 20 years for flight disturbances.
Numerous videos have been posted of unruly behaviour on Washington flights, including one American Airlines flight to Phoenix in which the pilot threatened to divert "to the middle of Kansas and dump people off." A flight attendants union had urged airlines to bar Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol from departing Washington on commercial flights after exhibiting "mob mentality behaviour" on flights into the region.
On Friday, Alaska Airlines said it banned 14 passengers from future travel after "unacceptable" behaviour on a flight from Washington to Seattle.
US airlines and law enforcement agencies have bolstered security at Washington-area airports with Capitol Police now assigned to DC airports to ensure lawmaker safety after videos emerged of lawmakers being harassed in airport terminals.
On Tuesday, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump supporters who breached the US Capitol should be banned from flying and added to a government "no-fly" list.