Passengers vowing to ‘discuss politics and freedoms’ should just go | Jayse D. Anspach

Passengers vowing to ‘discuss politics and freedoms’ should just go

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By Jayse D. Anspach

Today from The New York Times

WASHINGTON (AP) — For years, airlines have aimed to increase the civil penalties they can levy on stupendously loud and rowdy passengers. The effort got a boost last year when Congress stipulated that airlines can’t impose large fines for no-shows that arrive late.

Now, the Department of Transportation has added a new carrot to the sticks that airlines are increasingly able to apply to unhappy fliers: prosecution.

For the first time, the department will prioritize cases of disruptive behavior so that carriers are likely to feel the financial sting for plane delays and lost luggage more severely.

“What we’re seeing is an increasing number of passengers who are behaving badly, and to be frank, the airlines have become proficient at getting the passengers back to the gate without getting much out of that behavior,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said during a visit to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on Monday.

Transportation department officials said they are writing a legal memo outlining the new enforcement action. It would apply to passengers boarding domestic flights and includes passengers acting at the mercy of an airline.

Starting July 15, airlines can only ask passengers to avoid the situation in which “the conduct disrupts the aircraft and the operation of the aircraft,” according to Mr. Jonathan White, the department’s acting associate administrator for enforcement. Airlines will have to exhaust administrative remedies before invoking criminal sanctions, he said.

Justice Department officials are reviewing the memo and will determine whether to move forward, a spokeswoman said.

In the past, a passenger evading a seat assignment could be granted an exception to the rule, which reduced the penalty for a late arrival to $250, along with transportation expenses.

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