U.S. regulator extends 'zero tolerance' policy on unruly air passengers

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WASHINGTON, March 15 (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said on Monday he will indefinitely extend a "zero tolerance policy" on unruly air passengers first imposed in January, after hundreds of reported incidents.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement he will extend the policy, which had been due to expire March 30, "as we continue to do everything we can to confront the pandemic."

"The number of cases we're seeing is still far too high, and it tells us urgent action continues to be required," he said.

The FAA said the extension will last at least as long as a federal transportation face mask order remains in effect. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed the federal mask mandate in nearly all transportation modes in late January.

The FAA said that airlines have reported more than 500 unruly passenger cases to the FAA since late December. To date, the FAA has initiated about 20 enforcement actions and is reviewing more than 450 cases.

The agency added the majority of those incidents involved non-compliance with the facemask order but added that it "continues to be concerned about unruly behavior of all types."

U.S. airlines have banned hundreds of passengers from future flights for failing to comply with mask policies.

Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) said last month it had banned about 950 passengers since it adopted the policies to address COVID-19 last year.

Dickson signed the zero tolerance order directing the policy after supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump were disruptive on some flights around the time of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack. Dickson warned that disruptive passengers could face up to $35,000 in fines and possible jail time.

On Thursday, Representative Peter DeFazio, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, urged Dickson to extend the policy for passengers not wearing masks or causing disturbances on flights, "until public health officials determine that mass vaccinations have eliminated the risk of infection."

Reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Chris Reese

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