AG Garland instructs US attorneys to prioritize unruly airplane passenger prosecution


(WASHINGTON) — As people travel to visit loved ones for the holiday season, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is warning that unruly passengers on flights will not be tolerated and may face prosecution.

“Passengers who assault, intimidate or threaten violence against flight crews and flight attendants do more than harm those employees; they prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel,” the Attorney General wrote in a memo to U.S. Attorneys on Wednesday. “Similarly, when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the close confines of a commercial aircraft, the conduct endangers everyone aboard.”

He urged all 52 U.S. attorney’s offices to prioritize the prosecution of federal crimes that “endanger the safety of passengers, flight crews, and flight attendants.”

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 2.3 million people, according to an agency spokesperson.

“The figure represents 88% versus pre-pandemic volume screened in 2019 for that same day of the week,” the administration said.

Airline crews have reported incidents in which visibly drunk passengers verbally abused them, shoved them, threw trash at them, kicked seats, defiled restrooms and, in some cases, even punched them in the face.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson confirmed to ABC News earlier this month that the administration has referred 37 of the “most egregious” cases to the FBI out of the 227 unruly passenger cases they’ve initiated enforcement action on.

Representatives from the Justice Department and FAA began meeting in August, according to a joint statement, “to develop an efficient method for referring the most serious unruly-passenger cases for potential criminal prosecution.”

The FAA said it has received more than 5,000 reports from airlines of unruly passengers since the start of the year.

In his memo on Wednesday, Garland urged U.S. attorney’s offices to talk to state and local law enforcement. He directed them to “reaffirm” the DOJ’s willingness to help.

“The Department of Justice is committed to using resources to do it’s part to prevent violence, intimidation, threats of violence, and other criminal behavior that endangers the safety of passengers, flight crews, flight attendants, on commercial aircraft,” Garland wrote.

ABC News Mina Kaji and Amanda Maile contributed to this report.

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