James Eli Shiffer, the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor, digs into data and documents to uncover the news. Reach him at 612-673-4116, james.shiffer@startribune.com or follow him on Twitter at @jameselishiffer. Tell us what to investigate. Send your story tips to whistleblower@startribune.com.

Unruly passengers: When the skies turn unfriendly

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: August 26, 2014 - 11:19 AM

I had many questions about reading about a United Airlines flight forced to land after a fight between two passengers over a reclined seat. The Federal Aviation Administration has the power to fine passengers up to $25,000 who violate crewmember instructions or otherwise raise hell during flight. The chart below shows that the number of FAA enforcement actions over passenger behavior has generally declined since peaking in 2004. The data for 2014 covers actions through June 30.

It's not as easy to get the records of the individual cases that underly the data. Alison Duquette, who works in media relations at FAA headquarters, told me that it may require a Freedom of Information Act request, because the agency would have to redact private data.

Duquette told me the list actually does not reflect the worst of the worst. If passengers get really awful, the airlines will notify the FBI and local law enforcement, who will be waiting at the gate to welcome the trouble-makers with handcuffs. Last time she checked, the U.S. Department of Justice does not keep records on passenger prosecutions, Duquette said.

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