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According to 49 U.S. Code § 46504, the federal charge of interfering with a flight crew occurs if a person on an aircraft in flight assaults or intimidates any member of the flight’s crew, including pilots and flight attendants.
This includes interfering with or preventing the ability of the crew member to perform their job in any way.
The aircraft is considered by law to be in flight once all external doors are closed and until one external door is opened. The key point is that the plane does not have to be in the air for an offense to occur.
Again, it’s important to point out that the offense doesn’t have to include a physical assault or threat of assault to affect a crew. Actions that can be considered interference with a flight crew include:
The pertinent laws cover what is referred to as the “special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States,” which we’ll later explain in detail.
Unruly airline passenger incidents hit a record high in 2021 as seemingly every day, another story of a flight being diverted because of a belligerent traveler was in the news.
No, it isn’t just your imagination. The friendly skies haven’t been so friendly of late.
The Federal Aviation Administration investigated 1,099 cases of these incidents in 2021, more than the total of the previous eight years combined.
The incidents haven’t slowed much in 2022.
As of late November, the FAA has reported 767 investigations. And that’s just the cases the FAA investigated. There have been more than 2,100 reports of unruly passengers from airline crews and passengers so far in 2022.
Interfering with a flight crew is a federal crime and can bring severe penalties, including years in prison and massive fines. The FAA can also levy additional substantial civil penalties.
The surge in recent cases has prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to seek more considerable fines for those convicted.
Anyone charged with interfering with a flight crew needs immediate legal help. The criminal defense team at Varghese Summersett has vast experience defending federal charges and will work to obtain the most favorable outcome possible.
In this post, we’ll explain what interfering with a flight crew means, detail the penalties, and look at some recent cases in the news.
Intimidation can be caused verbally or by actions. In either instance, if the victim has reasonable apprehension of pending bodily harm to them or another, intimidation could apply.
Additionally, intimidation could also include the use of words or actions to make someone fearful or from making someone refrain from doing what they normally would or would not do.
The prosecutors must prove the defendant knowingly assaulted or intimidated a crew member of the aircraft and that the offense interfered with the performance of the crew member’s duties.
The term “special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States” refers to any aircraft that meets the following criteria:
Not even a little bit. Disobeying the instructions of a crew member brings the potential risk of violating federal law. If you’re asked to move your chair into the upright position and ignore the attendant, you could be arrested by officials when the flight lands.
Most of the incidents that end up in an arrest, however, involve a passenger arguing, repeatedly ignoring, or disobeying a crew member or act out in a way that is dangerous for crew or passengers.
Anyone who feels they’ve been treated unfairly can file a complaint against a flight crew member with the appropriate airline or with the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division. Easy ways to prevent an in-flight offense:
Assaulting a flight crew member is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. If a dangerous weapon is used during the assault or intimidation, the punishment includes up to life in prison.
Interfering with a flight crew member is punishable by a civil penalty of up to $35,000. The maximum penalty was increased by $10,000 in 2018.
In these cases, the FAA could file a notice of proposed civil penalty. The passenger can fight the fine by requesting a hearing. A federal Administrative Law Judge hears the case where typically, the FAA and passenger each present evidence.
An experienced attorney is vital for the passenger in this situation. The judge decides on the punishment after the hearing. If either the passenger or FAA requests a review of the decision, the FAA Administrator reviews the judge’s decision. Later, either party can appeal the Administrator’s decision by filing an appeal in a Federal Court of Appeals.
Have you been accused of interfering with a flight crew? Call the federal criminal defense attorneys at Varghese Summersett at 817-203-2220. Our experienced firm includes former federal and state prosecutors with proven track records.
Call us for a complimentary strategy session where we will: