A recent incident in which a 29-year-old man is accused of biting two security screening agents at Denver International Airport is among more than five dozen episodes of unruly behavior at checkpoints in recent months, the Transportation Security Administration said this week.
And airline crews have made more than 3,000 reports of unruly passengers to the Federal Aviation Administration this year, according to federal data, part of a surge of such behavior as air traffic has rebounded this spring from last year’s pandemic lows.
Masking rules that are still in place for everyone at airports and onboard airplanes have been at the root of some of the tensions on display, as flight attendants take pains before planes take off to make sure passengers understand the federal regulations still in place. It’s also been a while since many of the travelers who are now returning to the skies have dealt with the lines and hassles of an airport.
At least two incidents occurred this month on the ground at DIA. On June 14, Keswan Hawkins was arrested by Denver police following the biting incident involving the TSA agents, Denver7 reported, and he faces assault charges.
In the early morning hours of June 17, Jeffrey Hiers of Thornton was accused of punching a Southwest Airlines flight attendant in the jaw and then choking her while he was riding the concourse train at DIA, in an incident first reported by 9News. Other passengers intervened, and Hiers was arrested. He also faces assault charges.
It’s unclear what precipitated each alleged assault.
The TSA cited the Denver biting incident and another incident at the Louisville, Ky. airport, in a news release asking passengers to be calm and respectful while waiting in long screening lines that have been exacerbated by staffing shortages, including at DIA. In Louisville, a passenger was accused of trying to “breach the exit lane” and then assaulting two TSA officers, the agency said.
In addition to criminal charges, a violation of TSA security rules also can result in a civil penalty of up to $13,910, the TSA says.
“Passengers do not arrive at an airport or board a plane with the intent of becoming unruly or violent; 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,” Darby LaJoye, TSA’s acting administrator, said in a news release. “We appreciate our continued partnership and coordination with the FAA and stand together in a unified position of zero-tolerance with respect to attacks against our employees.”
As for safety onboard planes, the TSA says that next month it will reactivate a program in which federal air marshals train flight crews in self-defense. The training program was suspended during the pandemic.
Data tracked by the FAA show that it has received 3,082 reports of unruly behavior from airline crews this year, through June 20. It has started 487 investigations so far, more than in any full year going back to 1995.
That number already is more than double the 183 investigations initiated in 2020, which was the highest annual total since 2012.
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