Disruptive behavior by airline passengers is any behavior that interferes with an airline crew’s duties, including the duties of flight attendants. Disruptive behavior includes: 

  • Verbal threats
  • Physical threats
  • Intimidation
  • Assault

What Law Applies to Disruptive Behavior by Airplane Passengers?

Penalties for disruptive behavior by airline passengers vary according to what type of law applies.

Federal law applies to incidents of disruptive passenger behavior that occur within the United States on "closed door" aircraft. A "closed door" aircraft is one that is not connected to the walkway ramp leading into the airport. If the disruptive incident occurs while the airplane is still connected to the walkway by means of an open door, the local jurisdiction’s laws apply.

Under international law, if a passenger causes a disruption, the country in which the airplane arrives can prosecute the passenger, regardless of the origin of the flight. This means that disruptive passengers arriving in the United States are subject to federal law.

What are the Penalties for Disruptive Behavior?

Federal law provides severe penalties for disruptive behavior by airline passengers. If a passenger engages in disruptive behavior, the airline may file a report with the Federal Aviation Administration. If federal prosecutors file charges, the passenger can be subject to civil and criminal penalties.

Penalties can include civil fines of up to $1,100 and criminal fines of up to $10,000 for each violation of federal aviation law. Other criminal sanctions include a prison term of up to 20 years if the passenger was not armed and a life sentence if the passenger was armed. Passengers can also end up on the no-fly list.

Do I Need a Lawyer Experienced in Aviation Law?

If you have had a problem with disruptive behavior on an airline, speak with an attorney experienced in aviation law about your rights. The intersection of local, federal, and international aviation law is very complicated, but the right attorney can guide you through the legal process.