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Bad behavior on flights soars: FAA says number of reported cases this year is 10 times annual average — and we’re only 4 months in

Travel season is picking back up, and the Federal Aviation Administration has a serious warning for airline customers: There has been an enormous and very concerning spike in unruly and dangerous behavior by passengers aboard flights this year, so watch your step.

What’s happening in the friendly skies?

Despite the fact that the number of flights per day is still well below the daily average of recent years, the FAA revealed that the number of reported incidents in 2021 is about 10 times the annual average — and we are only four months into the calendar year.

According to NBC’s “Today,” the FAA said it sees between 100 and 150 formal cases of bad behavior by passengers in a typical year. Since January, the agency said, there have been 1,300 reported cases — even though air travel still remains way below pre-pandemic levels.

Spike In Unruly, Dangerous Airline Passenger Behavior Reported By FAA | TODAY

The bad behavior includes refusal to wear masks, excessive drinking, and assault — both physical and verbal — on crew members and other passengers. The attacks include political intimidation and harassment of lawmakers, the agency said.

Image source: YouTube/Today video screenshot

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants union, told NBC that airline employees have reported all kinds of disconcerting behaviors — and they’ve seen nothing like it over the last two decades.

“The physical and verbal abuse that flight attendants have been taking has been way off the charts of any kind of air-rage incidents that we’ve been talking about over the past 20 years,” she said.

“What we have seen on our planes is flight attendants being physically assaulted, pushed, choked,” Nelson continued. “We had a passenger urinate. We had a passenger spit into the mouth of a child on board. These are some of the things that we have been dealing with.”

The FAA said it is implementing a “zero-tolerance” policy to reported bad behavior. Passengers who engage in such behavior will face criminal charges, fines up to $35,000, and potential lifetime bans on some airlines.

Image source: YouTube/Today video screenshot

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Frightening video shows airplane engine on fire after pilot declares ‘MAYDAY’ just minutes into flight

A United Airlines flight bound for Honolulu was forced to make an emergency landing on Saturday after the Boeing 777-200 plane experienced a massive engine failure just minutes into flight.

Video of the exploded engine went viral on social media, as did pictures that showed pieces from that engine land in residential areas near Denver, Colorado.

What are the details?

Just minutes after departing Denver International Airport, the pilot of United Airlines flight 328 sent a distressed “MAYDAY” call over air traffic control communications to report “an engine failure,” and request an immediate return to the airport.

Video of the exploded right-wing engine, with missing pieces and on fire while still in the air, quickly went viral on social media.

RAW: United Flight 328 engine catches fire

Barbara Underwood, a Hawaii resident, told Hawaii News Now that she saw the moment the engine exploded.

“I looked out the window and I saw the engine,” she said. “I noticed it was just shaking a lot. And I thought, well, it’s the turbulence.”

“And then as I was looking at it, it just blew fire. And that ring thing around it just flew off and then it was just smoking. And I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know what’s going to happen next,'” she explained.

Shockingly, Underwood said many passengers were unaware of what had happened.

“I was on the window on the right side, and nobody saw it except the people that were on the window and nobody screamed. And like I looked over and people were still reading their books. They kind of didn’t know what was going on,” Underwood told Hawaii News Now.

Pictures showing debris from that exploded jet engine also circulated on social media. The debris fell over Broomfield, a suburb of Denver.

Kieran Cain told NBC News he was playing basketball with his kids in Broomfield when he witnessed the debris rain from the sky.

“We heard a gigantic boom and, as we did that, we saw a huge puff of smoke and then stuff started falling out of the sky,” he said. “That’s when I called 911.”

Did the plane land safely?

Fortunately, the plane was able to land without further complications. The plane was carrying 231 passengers and 10 crew members.

There were no injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board will lead the investigation into the incident, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

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FAA announces ‘zero-tolerance’ crackdown on unruly passengers: No more warnings; expect big fines and possible jail time

We have all heard horror stories of unruly airline passengers making life miserable for hundreds of fellow passengers.

Flyers will fight with each other or with airline staff. And things have reportedly gotten much worse with the airlines’ adoption of mask mandates and the recent riot at the U.S. Capitol.

In response to increasing unruliness among passengers, the Federal Aviation Administration issued an order this week designed to crack down on travelers’ bad behavior.

What’s the deal with the new FAA order?

The new order signed by FAA chief Stephen Dickson on Wednesday empowers airlines to implement a no-nonsense, “stricter legal enforcement policy against unruly airline passengers,” the agency said in a statement.

According to the FAA, the airline industry “has seen a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior.” The agency said the incidents partly stemmed from customers’ refusal to wear face masks during the pandemic and from the Jan. 6 violence at the Capitol.

For example, air travel news site reported that “almost 3,000 passengers have been put on temporary no-fly lists as a result of failing to wear masks on board. Tensions have risen due to the Capitol Hill riot, even resulting in an American Airlines pilot ‘threatening’ to dump passengers in Kansas if they don’t ‘behave.'”

The new policy scraps the warnings and counseling the agency has historically used to deal with unruly passengers. The FAA will now “pursue legal enforcement action” against anyone who gets out of line. Actions include massive fines and possible jail time.

“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,” the FAA statement said. “This dangerous behavior can distract, disrupt, and threaten crewmembers’ safety functions.”

The agency highlighted that, though it does not have the power to criminally charge passengers, it “works closely with federal law enforcement and national security partners on any reported security threats that may impact aviation safety.”

Dickson told CNBC on Thursday that the “zero-tolerance” policy was prompted by a surprising increase in the number of disruptions.

“This is about flight safety,” he said. “Any time we see a trend like this, we need to take action, because traveling on a commercial airline in the United States is the safest form of travel in human history. And I want to make sure it stays that way.”

Dickson admitted that in the past the FAA would adjudicate many of the unruly passenger situations with counseling or warnings, but he said that “with this order … I’m telling my inspectors, I’m telling my attorneys in the FAA chief counsel office that we need to expedite gathering the facts on all of these, and we’re going to take immediate enforcement action in appropriate situations.”

“That’s what we mean by a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy,” he said.

Folks in the airline industry heaped praise on the FAA’s move.

Airlines for America, the trade organization for airlines in the U.S., said in a tweet, “The safety and security of passengers and employees is the top priority of the U.S. airline industry, and we welcome the @FAANews’ order to implement a more stringent policy regarding unruly passenger behavior.”

“First strike and you’re out,” Sara Nelson, the head of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said, ABC News reported. “We applaud FAA Administrator Dickson for taking this clear stand for our safety and security. This will help serve as a deterrent to unruly passengers who had been bucking the rules of aviation safety. We continue to work with our airlines, the FAA, the TSA and law enforcement to keep our skies safe.”

The new FAA order will be in place until March 30.