Sec. Buttigieg looking for reductions in unruly passengers, close calls after busiest air travel summer on record

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As an increasing number of passengers are acting out on crowded aircraft this summer, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has an admonition for passengers.

“If you’re onboard an airplane, do not get in the way of the flight crew,” he said Friday before boarding a flight at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. “We expect everybody to respect flight crews and their fellow passengers.”

Incidents ticked up over the summer months, from 586 last summer to 747 this year, according to FAA records. Those numbers are still down from highs reached during the coronavirus pandemic.

The FAA has been issuing fines and touting a zero-tolerance approach. Earlier this month, the agency said it had referred some of the most serious cases to the Justice Department to consider criminal prosecution.

“No one should do anything that endangers the flight crew or fellow passengers on a plane, and doing so could lead to you being referred for criminal prosecution and facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines,” Buttigieg said.

He made the comments as the Transportation Security Administration said the summer was the busiest at airports nationwide in the agency’s two-decade history. Buttigieg said airlines are doing a better job than last summer at getting passengers to their destinations.

“We’re seeing cancellations not just down from last year, but on track to be on par or a little better than historic norms before the pandemic,” Buttigieg said. Data from flight-tracking site FlightAware also show a reduction in cancellations but an increase in delays.

Buttigieg also said officials are taking action to reduce the number of dangerous close calls on and near airport runways but have still not identified a single root cause of the incidents.

“The truth is there is no single cause or no single issue that explains it,” he said. “Sometimes we have seen issues with pilots. Sometimes we have seen issues with controllers. Sometimes we’ve seen an issue with ground crews.”

“We have extremely high standards for close calls,” he continued. “Sometimes an airplane could come within half a mile of another airplane, and if it wasn’t supposed to, we’re booking that as a close call and we’re looking at how to prevent it from happening again.”

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