2021 Was The Worst Year On Record For Bad Airline Passengers

Image for article titled 2021 Was The Worst Year On Record For Bad Airline Passengers

Photo: Joe Raedle (Getty Images)

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


In 2021, the FAA initiated 1,081 investigations into unruly passenger behavior. The average for the previous decade (2011-2020) was 142 investigations per year. The prior worst year on record was 2004, when the FAA started 310 investigations.

The face mask requirement imposed by the Transportation Security Administration is absolutely the reason behind the unprecedented rise in chaos across the nation’s airports 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 face mask policy, 71.7 percent of all reported incidents of unruly passenger behavior.

It is also important to point out that the FAA started a “zero tolerance” policy towards poorly behaving airline passengers in mid-January 2021. The agency skipped offering warnings or counseling to offenders and immediately escalated to taking legal action against those who vocally (and on occasion violently) disobey airline crew members. The FAA also issued cheesygovernment-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 exploring harsher penalties for unruly passengers beyond a monetary fine, ranging from removal from TSA PreCheck clearance to being added to a federal no-fly list. Pete Buttigieg, the Secretary of Transportation, told CNN:

“It is completely unacceptable to mistreat, abuse or even disrespect flight crews. We will continue to look at all options to make sure that 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 crews who get people to where they need to be.”


The federal transportation face mask requirement will remain in place until at least March 18th, 2022. And unless the pandemic drastically changes in the next two months, the mask policy shouldn’t be expected to change after March 18th.

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