FAA refers more unruly passenger cases to FBI in 2023

A crowd of passengers at the security area in Denver International Airport.
Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has referred more unruly passenger cases to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for criminal prosecution review in the first quarter of 2023. 

The phenomenon of in-flight incidents involving unruly and disruptive passengers is a continuing worldwide problem, and news of the recent FAA referrals echoes recent concerns from other world regions.

Speaking on the recently announced raft of FBI referrals by the US aviation regulator, Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen, a former commercial airline pilot, warned:

“If you act out on a plane, you should just stay at home because we will come after you with serious consequences. We have zero tolerance for unruly behavior.”

Similarly, the Federal Bureau of Investigation echoed the sentiment of the aviation regulatory body, saying that it would also work to address the problem.

“The FBI will continue to work with our FAA partners to ensure the safety of all passengers and to combat violence aboard commercial flights,” said FBI Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the Criminal Investigative Division.

“We remain committed to investigating all incidents that fall within FBI jurisdiction aboard commercial flights.” 

List of FBI referrals

Included amongst the FAA referrals formally made to the FBI this year are the following incidents:

  • Mar. 2023: Tried to open aircraft door and use a makeshift weapon to assault a flight attendant.
  • Jan. 2023:     Inappropriately touched a 17-year-old passenger.
  • Jan. 2023:    Refused to remain seated, acted erratically, said he needed to fly the aircraft.
  • Jan. 2023:     Assaulted a female passenger.
  • Jan. 2023:     Assaulted a flight attendant.
  • Jan. 2023:     Sexually assaulted a passenger.
  • Dec. 2022:    Passenger assaulted his wife.
  • Dec. 2022:    Assaulted flight attendants and passengers.
  • Dec. 2022:    Tried to strike a flight attendant and enter the flight deck.
  • Dec. 2022:    Assaulted, threatened and intimidated flight attendants.
  • Dec. 2022:    Assaulted another passenger.
  • Dec. 2022:    Inappropriately touched another passenger.
  • July 2022:    Threatened and intimidated flight attendants and passengers.
  • July 2022:    Assaulted another passenger.
  • July 2022:    Threatened flight attendants and passenger.
  • April 2022:   Sexually assaulted a flight attendant.
  • April 2022:   Assaulted a flight attendant and passenger, deployed evacuation slide.

The FAA has referred more than 250 of the most serious cases to the FBI since late 2021 under a partnership aimed at ensuring unruly airline passengers face criminal prosecution when warranted. 

A drop in incidents

The rate of unruly passenger incidents has dropped by over 80 percent since record-highs in early 2021 but unacceptable behavior continues to occur.

The FAA pursues legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crewmembers, and can propose civil penalties up to $37,000 per violation.

Detailed current data on these incidents is available on the FAA unruly passenger website


The issue of in-flight incidents involving unruly and disruptive passengers continues to be a growing worldwide problem for the commercial aviation sector.

AviationSource recently reported on the rise of problematic incidents in the Indian aviation sector which saw the Indian aviation regulator issue directives to national airlines to address the problem.

In other related news, the UAE intends to ratify the Montreal Protocol 2014 (MP14) – a move that will strengthen the global legal deterrent against unruly and disruptive passenger incidents onboard flights.

Effective from 1 May, authorities in the UAE will have the jurisdiction to manage unruly and disruptive passengers that land in the country, irrespective of where the aircraft is registered.

By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
4 Min Read
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