Mask disputes fuel spike in air rage incidents

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(WASHINGTON) -- With the rise in airline passengers has come a rise in violence and aggression in our nation's airports and onboard flights throughout the country.

On Tuesday, two federal U.S. agencies, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) sounded the alarm on the increasingly unfriendly skies.

The FAA announced nearly 100 more in-flight incidents with unruly passengers -- a week after it’s worst weekly report of unruly passengers this summer -- bringing this year's total to 3,509 reports. An overwhelming majority of these incidents, 2,605, involve passengers who refuse to comply with the federal mask mandate.

These acts of aggression are happening before boarding as well.

TSA Acting Administrator Darby LaJoye told the House Subcommittee on Transportation & Maritime Security Tuesday morning that there have been more than 85 physical assaults on TSA officers since the beginning of the pandemic. That figure includes 25 assaults since the end of May.

LaJoye said there were two assaults reported at checkpoints on Monday alone.

"There has been some frustration over the mask mandate that's been widely reported," he said.

But a number of the assaults have also been alcohol related.

"Passengers have pushed and shoved officers and in some cases passengers have literally bitten TSOs," Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., said. "All too often these assaults occur simply because a crew member was doing their job in seeking to enforce common sense mask policies designed to protect fliers from COVID-19."

Assaulting a TSA officer can result in a civil penalty of up to almost $15,000 and a ban from TSA PreCheck. The FAA says its maximum penalty for interfering with flight crew is $35,000, but the agency has proposed fines as high as $52,000.

Last month, the TSA warned of staffing shortages as air travel rebounded more quickly than expected.

Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., said checkpoint lines in Miami were the longest he's ever seen -- recalling the line for TSA PreCheck was "nearly 50 yards long from front to back." He expressed concerns that lines might get even longer when international and business travel picks up.

"We have hired about 4,700 officers," LaJoye said at the hearing on Tuesday. "Just the last two weeks...we brought on almost 500 officers and we are on pace to meet the 6,000 number that we knew we needed, through the summer."

The assaults can't help, but he explained retention issues are mostly because of pay.

"It's common for the most hardworking people to be treated the worst," Rep. Donald Payne Jr., D-N.J., said. "These front line workers are not being compensated to the levels and degree of the importance of their job... Now TSOs are being assaulted across the country."

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