The FAA has announced that it is instituting a "zero-tolerance" policy toward disruptive passengers after a rise in "troubling" incidents over the past calendar year.
According to an order signed by FAA Administrator Steve Dickson on Wednesday, the agency will no longer be issuing "warnings or counseling" in cases involving unruly passengers, and will instead "pursue legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crew members."
“Flying is the safest mode of transportation and I signed this order to keep it that way,” Dickson said in a statement.
The policy change will remain in effect through the end of March.
The change comes just weeks after thousands of Trump supporters — many of whom flew to Washington — stormed the U.S. Capitol in riots that left five people dead on Jan. 6. In the days following the riot, reports emerged of flight crews dealing with unruly passengers as they returned from Washington to their hometowns.
Officials have warned that far-right protests could also occur in Washington and throughout the country ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday.
The new policy also comes nearly a year after many airlines began requiring passengers to wear masks or face coverings in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In the months since those policies have been introduced, there have been dozens of reports of unruly passengers who have been removed from airplanes after refusing to wear a mask.
According to FAA, "passengers who interfere with, physically assault, or threaten to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft face stiff penalties, including fines of up to $35,000 and imprisonment."