The Federal Aviation Administration says it has referred 37 cases involving unruly airline passengers to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution since the number of disruptions on flights began to spike in January.
FAA and Justice Department officials said Thursday that in the last three months they developed a process for the FAA to regularly send cases to the FBI, which forwards those worthy of prosecution to field offices for investigation.
They did not indicate how many of the 37 referrals have led to charges.
The FAA said the cases referred to the FBI are among 227 this year in which it has begun enforcement action that could lead to civil penalties against passengers.
Airlines and their unions have pressed the FAA to push more aggressively for criminal prosecution in severe cases of air rage.
The issue of passenger violence gained new attention last week when a 20-year-old California man was charged with punching an American Airlines flight attendant in the face, sending her to a hospital for treatment. He faces two federal charges.
Airlines have reported more than 5,000 incidents involving unruly passengers this year, with more than 3,600 of those involving people who refused to wear face masks as required by federal regulation.
The FAA said it has launched 950 investigations into passenger behavior on flights this year. That is the highest total since the agency started keeping track in 1995. In the five years from 2016 through 2020, the agency averaged 136 investigations a year.
The Association of Flight Attendants is pushing for a new no-fly list for people who assault crew members or other passengers. Someone banned on one airline could potentially be banned on all.
In other travel related new, AP has reported that Japan announced it will ease border controls beginning Monday for fully vaccinated travelers excluding tourists, responding to requests from the business community following a rapid decline in infections.
Everyone entering Japan must be fully inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines that are recognized by the Japanese authorities.
Those eligible include travelers on short-term business visits of less than three months, as well as longer term visitors including foreign students and workers on so-called technical internship programs, with a 14-day quarantine requirement.
Schools and companies sponsoring them are required to submit documents detailing their activities and how they will be monitored.
The 10-day self-isolation for Japanese citizens and foreign nationals with reentry permits will be shortened to three days.
Japan shut its borders to virtually all foreign visitors in January, except for those with special permits and for humanitarian purposes.