With continued mask mandates and other health requirements, passengers have become increasingly unruly.

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Last week, the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration wrote a letter to the leaders of airports throughout the United States, asking them to stop allowing airport bars to serve alcoholic beverages to go, in an attempt to prevent passengers from becoming unruly, noncompliant, or straight-up violent after they board a plane. 

"As the number of passengers traveling has increased, so has the number of unruly and unsafe behavior incidents on planes and in airports," administrator Steve Dickson wrote. "The FAA adopted a Zero-Tolerance policy toward this behavior on airplanes earlier this year, and we are taking the strongest possible action within our legal authority. But we need your help." 

A person wearing a protective mask walks past a Starbucks coffee shop
Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Dickson said that "every week" the agency has had to contend with situations where law enforcement officers have had to meet a plane at its arrival gate in order to pick up some passenger who at best has become a nuisance onboard or who, at worst, has physically assaulted a member of the flight crew. 

"Nevertheless, many of these passengers were interviewed by local police and released without criminal charges of any kind," Dickson continued. "When this occurs, we miss a key opportunity to hold unruly passengers accountable for their unacceptable and dangerous behavior. Our investigations show that alcohol often contributes to this unsafe behavior." 

According to ABC News, the FAA has received more than 3,700 reports of unruly or aggressive passengers so far this year, and almost 75 percent of them have involved fliers who would not comply with the federal mandate requiring them to wear a mask onboard. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that 85 percent of flight attendants who responded to a union survey in July said that they had dealt with at least one unruly passenger this year, and 17 percent of them said that they had been subjected to a "physical incident." 

Union president Sara Nelson also wants intoxicated passengers whose behavior disrupts the flight or who get physical with members of the flight crew to face criminal charges. "When people are facing jail time for acting out on a plane, we suddenly see some sobering up, and we need some sobering up," she said. 

Some U.S. airlines, including American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, announced earlier this summer that they would not resume serving alcohol onboard at least until the federal mask mandate expires. (As of this writing, the mandate runs through Monday, September 13.) 

"Flight attendants are on the front lines every day not only ensuring our customers' safety, but are also calming fears, answering questions, and enforcing policies like federally-required face masks," Brady Byrnes, managing director of flight service at American, wrote in a memo to the airline's flight attendants in May. "We also recognize that alcohol can contribute to atypical behavior from customers onboard and we owe it to our crew not to potentially exacerbate what can already be a new and stressful situation for our customers." 

FAA administrator Dickson is encouraging airports to educate fliers that they can't bring to-go booze onboard their flights by putting up signs, recording public service announcements, and by educating the bar and restaurant operators throughout their terminals. "We have the safest aviation system in the world, and you are a key partner in that success," he wrote. "I know that we can keep it that way with your continued help and these additional actions."