10 ‘unruly passengers’ face more than $201k in penalties from the FAA

November 11, 2021
The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday announced that it has proposed an additional $201,287 in civil penalties against 10 passengers for alleged physical assaults.
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Airline staff have had their hands full with a large number of “unruly” passengers this past year. Some curse. Some throw punches. At least one is accused of throwing trash and stealing another passenger’s cookies. 

No matter what they did to earn the “unruly passenger” label, they all face heavy fines. The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday announced that it has proposed an additional $201,287 in civil penalties against 10 passengers for alleged physical assaults.

Unruly passengers cases spiked after the U.S. introduced a mask mandate on airplanes and in airports on Feb. 1. The mandate is set to remain in place until at least Jan. 18.  

So far this year, the FAA has reported 5,114 unruly passenger incidents, 73% of which were mask-related. More than 100 reports involved physical assaults, according to a Wednesday news release.

► Unruly passengers:‘One of the worst displays of unruly behavior’: American Airlines bans passenger after flight attendant injured

► Unruly passengers fined:FAA levied more than $1M in fines against ‘unruly passengers’ this year amid mask mandate

While the rate of unruly passenger incidents has dropped about 50% since record-highs in early 2021, when the FAA first introduced its “Zero Tolerance” policy against unruly passengers, the agency said the number of incidents “remains too high.”

While the FAA does not have the authority to prosecute, it can impose fines. The agency can propose up to $37,000 per violation for unruly passenger cases, and can impose multiple violations per incident.

The proposed penalties totaling more than $200,000 announced Wednesday include:

  • A $32,000 fine against a passenger who allegedly refused to follow instructions to fasten her seatbelt. The FAA says the woman punched and screamed at her husband and son repeatedly, threw trash at a flight attendant and took cookies from a nearby passenger during a Horizon Air flight from Austin, Texas to San Francisco on May 18.
  • A $20,000 fine against a traveler who allegedly refused to return to his seat while the “fastened seatbelt” sign was on and threatened a flight attendant by saying he was going to “(expletive) up his (expletive).” The passenger allegedly also made physical contact with a flight attendant and yelled profanities in the aisle while the plane was taxiing from its gate. The Delta Air Lines plane returned to the gate, where the man was removed by law enforcement officers.
  • A $26,787 fine against a Southwest Airlines passenger who allegedly left his seat and attempted to enter the cockpit during the plane’s final descent and later punched one of the flight attendants on a flight from New York to Chicago on May 5. The flight attendant required medical attention, according to the FAA, and law enforcement met the passenger at the arrival gate. 
  • A $25,000 fine on a passenger who allegedly refused to stow her carry-on luggage in the overhead bin on a Southwest Airlines flight from Boston to Chicago on Feb. 3. She allegedly “held onto the armrest, shouted loudly and aggressively” after being told she could not continue with the flight and used derogatory language and obscene gestures towards a crew member.  As she left the plane, she allegedly spat on a crew member. Police officers met her at the gate. 
  • A $24,000 fine against a passenger on an American Airlines flight from Tampa to Miami on Jan. 21. The passenger allegedly refused to wear a facemask while boarding and was disruptive when the aircraft remained at the gate due to a “minor technical issue.” Several passengers asked for a new seat assignment to avoid the traveler and her companions, and the captain eventually requested her removal. The passenger allegedly shoved a flight attendant in the chest on her way off the plane. 
  • A $24,000 fine against a passenger who allegedly elbowed and kicked a flight attendant after he asked her to wear her facemask on a Southwest flight from New Orleans to Baltimore on March 28. 
  • A $24,000 fine against a passenger who allegedly refused to wear a mask, threatened and cursed at crew members and shoved one crew member on a Delta Air Lines flight from Detroit to Salt Lake City on Dec. 27. 
  • A $23,000 fine against a passenger on a March 11 American Airlines flight who allegedly yelled at flight attendants when she realized her seat would not recline. The FAA said she eventually agreed to switch seats with another passenger during the flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Aspen, Colorado, but continued to verbally abuse flight attendants and struck a flight attendant on the forearm. The passenger also allegedly refused to wear a facemask. She was met by law enforcement at the gate.
  • A $17,500 fine against a JetBlue passenger who allegedly pushed and yelled at a crew member, telling him to “get his fat (expletive)” out of his face. The captain diverted the Nov. 7, 2020 flight to Richmond, Virginia, where police met the passenger at the gate.  
  • A $9,000 fine against a passenger who “stomped and/or kicked” the feet of the passenger behind him on March 20 as their American Airlines flight from Cancun descended into Indianapolis. 

Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz



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