September 27, 2022

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Unruly passenger levels still ‘unacceptable,’ Transportation Secretary Buttigieg says

The skies have gotten a tiny bit friendlier so far in 2022.

Last year, the rate of unruly passengers came in at 6.9 incidents per 10,000 flights, with flight attendants and other airline employees facing historic levels of harassment. So far in 2022, the rate has dropped to 3.8, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

It’s better but it’s still not enough, says Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. He oversees the FAA and has vowed a continued crackdown on unruly passengers.

“We’re pleased to see improvement, but it hasn’t gone far enough in terms of ending the disruptive behavior that we’ve seen in our skies. And that’s just one example of a source of pressure and strain on our flying workforce,” he said in a Yahoo Finance Live interview on Monday.

“It’s unacceptable,” he added.

The data on unruly passenger airline incidents in 2021 is striking and is largely linked to mask mandates. Last year, over 70% of the 5,981 unruly passenger reports were mask related, leading to over 1,000 formal investigations.

So far this year, about 64% of the 1,035 reports so far have related to masks.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently extended the mask mandate on planes until April 18 and is due to review the issue soon. The mandate’s recent extension, as people in many other settings have been allowed to removed masks, has led to protests from conservative voices and even a lawsuit from Texas.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske recently said, “We are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel” when it comes to the disruptions on the travel industry upended by COVID-19.

During an interview with Yahoo Finance in February, Buttigieg said that unruly behavior on airplanes wouldn’t be tolerated, but he stopped short of offering support for things like a no-fly list for those who misbehave. Airlines are able to maintain their own no-fly lists, but some in the industry — reportedly including Delta CEO Ed Bastian — have advocated for a government-operated list.

Overall, Buttigieg says that the continued disruptions have “got to change, and [airline workers] need to know that they have the FAA at their back to make sure that anybody working in this field is supported.”

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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