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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has recorded nearly 100 cases of unruly airline passengers in the past week amid a surge in aggressive and violent behavior at airports and on flights as more people return to the skies following loosened pandemic restrictions. 

According to updated numbers released by the FAA on Tuesday, there have now been 3,509 unruly passenger reports thus far in 2021, with the majority of the reported incidents, 2,605, related to noncompliance with the federal mask mandate that remains in place for flights and public transit. 

So far in 2021, there have been 581 investigations initiated into unruly passenger incidents. 

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Comparatively, the FAA launched only 183 investigations in 2020, and 146 the year before. 

Under federal law, no passenger may “assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crew member in the performance of the crew member’s duties aboard an aircraft being operated,” and the FAA may levy fines of up to $37,000 per violation in unruly passenger cases. 

Earlier this month, the FAA said it had issued a $10,500 fine to a passenger who refused to wear a mask during a February flight. 

The federal agency at the time also announced fines against eight other passengers who it said refused to wear a face mask, consumed alcohol they had brought onto the plane or assaulted passengers or flight crew members.

The nine passengers received a total of $119,000 in fines, with individual penalties ranging from $7,500 to $21,500. 

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has also reported a similar surge in unruly behavior among passengers passing through security lines at airports. 

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Darby LaJoye, TSA’s acting administrator, said during a House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security hearing Tuesday that there have been more than 85 reported physical assaults against TSA officers since the start of the pandemic last year. 

LaJoye explained that 25 of the assaults have been reported just since the end of May, including one in Denver last month in which a passenger allegedly bit two TSA officers. 

The TSA last month announced plans to resume its crew member self-defense training in early July after it was previously postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

LaJoye said in a statement at the time, “While it is our hope that flight crew members never have need for these tactics, it is critical to everyone’s safety that they be well-prepared to handle situations as they arise.” 

“Passengers do not arrive at an airport or board a plane with the intent of becoming unruly or violent,” he explained. “However, what is an exciting return to travel for some may be a more difficult experience for others, which can lead to unexpected, and unacceptable, behaviors.”

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