U.S. Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson has ordered a strict "zero tolerance policy" for disruptive airline passengers in the wake of several incidents occurring on flights in and out of Washington, D.C., around the riots at the U.S. Capitol.
Dickson, 63, told Reuters that the order, which he signed on Wednesday, will last through March 30 and will punish disruptive passengers with a fine of up to $35,000 and possible jail time. Airlines have been briefed about the new policy, Dickson said.
"We've seen a disturbing increase in these incidents…. We'll take the strongest possible enforcement action against any passenger who engages in it," he told Reuters.
According to Dickson, the FAA could refer cases for criminal prosecution to the Justice Department, which could seek sentences of up to 20 years for unruly passengers who create unsafe conditions on board.
WATCH: Pilot Threatens to 'Dump' Disruptive Airline Passengers Off in Kansas on Flight out of D.C.
The FAA's policy comes as many airlines are increasing security measures for flights in and out of D.C. in the wake of the Capitol riots. Last week, American Airlines stopped serving alcohol on D.C.-bound flights and increased staff presence in area airports, while United increased staffing and moved its crew members staying overnight in the city out of downtown hotels.
On Thursday, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said that all passengers would banned from checking firearms, with the exception of law enforcement.
"We're all on high alert based on the events over the last couple of weeks up in Washington," Bastian said in an interview with CNBC.
Bastion said that Delta plans to add more security measures at the airports and on planes ahead of Inauguration Day, January 20. But he also expressed optimism that the disruption on flights would die down soon, telling CNBC, "I think this is a moment hopefully in time with the outcry around the election results.''
Airlines began enacting changes last week after videos surfaced on social media of Trump supporters heading to D.C. creating unsafe conditions aboard flights. Footage showed individuals harassing passengers (including Senator Mitt Romney) and crew members, refusing to wear masks, and disobeying instructions by flight attendants. In one incident, a passenger was projecting "Trump 2020" on the ceiling of the plane cabin.
An American Airlines pilot on a cross-country flight out of the capital threatened to land in Kansas to "dump" off rowdy passengers who were chanting and not following crew member instructions.
In a statement last Wednesday, Sara Nelson, the International President of the Association of Flight Attendants (which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines), called for airlines and law enforcement to increase security measures for air travel, noting that "the mob mentality behavior that took place on several flights to the D.C. area [Tuesday] was unacceptable and threatened the safety and security of every single person on board."
House Homeland Security Committee under Chairman Bennie Thompson also called on the TSA and FBI to add "violent perpetrators" involved in the riots to be added to a "no-fly" list last Thursday.
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