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FAA Extends Zero-Tolerance Policy on Unruly Passengers

Following calls to maintain its zero-tolerance policy on unruly passengers, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has confirmed this policy will indeed be extended indefinitely.

The policy directs FAA safety inspectors and attorneys to take strong enforcement action against any passenger who disrupts or threatens the safety of a flight, with penalties ranging from fines to jail time. The number of cases is still high, consequently urgent action continues to be required.

The FAA has initiated more than 1,300 enforcement actions against unruly passengers during the past 10 years, and there have been several cases in recent months of passengers becoming unruly when asked to wear masks. Not only is an unruly air passenger dangerous – to the flight attendant and all on board – their behavior often results in costly diversions as the plane must return to its departure airport in order to disembark the passenger where they can be met by law enforcement officers.

The most recent cases were announced on March 17. The FAA proposes civil penalties of $20,000 and $12,250 against two passengers for allegedly interfering with, and in one case assaulting, flight attendants who instructed them to wear facemasks and obey various federal regulations.

The cases are as follows:

  • $20,000 against a passenger on a Dec. 27, 2020, jetBlue Airlines flight from Boston to Puerto Rico. The FAA alleges the passenger failed multiple times to comply with flight attendants’ instructions to wear her facemask and remain seated with her seatbelt fastened. The passenger shoved a flight attendant multiple times in her chest/shoulder area, shouted obscenities at the flight attendant, and threatened to have her fired. As a result of the passenger’s behavior, the captain diverted the flight back to Boston.
  • $12,250 against a passenger on a Dec. 31, 2020, jetBlue Airlines flight from New York to the Dominican Republic. The FAA alleges the passenger failed multiple times to comply with flight attendants’ instructions to wear his facemask, stop drinking from his personal bottle of alcohol, which is prohibited by FAA regulations, and hand over the bottle. After flight attendants issued the passenger a “Notice to Cease Objectionable Behavior” card, he shouted profanities at them, slammed overhead bins and became more and more uncooperative and agitated. During the landing phase of flight, including when the plane was taxiing to the gate, the passenger stood up while the “fasten seatbelt” sign was illuminated, threw his bottle of alcohol behind a seat, and went to the lavatory. As a result of the passenger’s behavior, the flight crew requested that law enforcement meet the aircraft at the gate.

Federal law prohibits interfering with aircraft crew or physically assaulting or threatening to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft. Passengers are subject to civil penalties for such misconduct, which can threaten the safety of the flight by disrupting or distracting cabin crew from their safety duties. Additionally, 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.

Read more about the zero-tolerance policy at the FAA

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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