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Unruly Passengers Get “No Mercy” for FAA Violations

The DOT sees sharp rise in mask-inspired aggressive and combative passenger incidents in 2021

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is showing seriousness and teeth in levying penalties on misbehaving airline passengers as piles of violation reports pour in around the actions of noncompliant flyers.

A no-tolerance policy by airlines, backed by the FAA, has seen reports about unruly passengers come in at exponential rates over the past few months, compared with past years. The F.A.A. told reporters from the New York Times that it had received more than 1,300 unruly-passenger reports from airlines since February. In the previous decade, the agency said, it took enforcement actions against 1,300 passengers total.

Most recently, the agency proposes civil penalties of $10,500 and $9,000 against two airline passengers for allegedly interfering with flight attendants who instructed them to obey cabin crew instructions and various federal regulations.

The $10,500 action is targeted at a passenger flying jetBlue Airlines flight from Ft. Lauderdale International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport in late December. The passenger repeatedly ignored and was rude to flight attendants who instructed him to wear a facemask, according to FAA reports. The unmasked passenger allegedly coughed and blew his nose into a blanket, disturbing other passengers and diverting flight crewmembers from their duties.

A $9,000 penalty was levied against a passenger, also on a JetBlue flight — from Los Angeles International Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport in March. The FAA reports the passenger yelled, slammed overhead bins, and shouted abusively at the cabin crew, as well as harassed and threatened a flight attendant during the flight. When the captain entered the cabin to deplane passenger into the custody of law enforcement, the profanity then targeted the captain.

Passengers have 30 days to challenge the FAA actions. The FAA strictly executes a zero-tolerance policy toward passengers who do not comply with rules of proper behavior through public disturbances onboard the aircraft, failure to obey flight crew instructions in violation of the FAA’s regulations, or engaging in conduct proscribed by federal law. Federal law provides for criminal fines and imprisonment of passengers who interfere with the performance of a crewmember’s duties by assaulting or intimidating that crewmember. The FAA can, and does, impose fines of up to $35,000 on unruly passengers, complemented by possible jail time. Overwhelmingly, a report noted, violations center around the refusal by passengers to wear masks.

According to the Monday New York Times report about a recent JetBlue incident recently adjudicated by the FAA, “one of the passengers, a woman who was traveling from the Dominican Republic on a JetBlue flight bound for New York on Feb. 7, refused to comply with instructions to wear a mask aboard the plane, hurled an empty liquor bottle that almost hit another passenger, threw food and shouted obscenities at flight attendants… The woman grabbed the arm of a flight attendant and hurt her arm, and she struck the arm of another flight attendant twice and scratched that crew member’s hand, causing the flight to return to the Dominican Republic. It recommended a fine of $32,750 for the woman.”

A former Alaska Airlines flight attendant claims to have resigned from her post after experiencing such an incident, saying “ The constant arguing and pushback from guests, it’s ridiculous.”