The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing civil penalties ranging from $9,000 to $22,000 against eight airline passengers for allegedly interfering with flight attendants who instructed them to obey cabin crew instructions and various federal regulations. These latest cases include assaulting flight crew, drinking alcohol brought aboard the plane and refusing to wear facemasks.
The enforcement actions are part of the FAA’s zero-tolerance policy for unruly and dangerous behavior by passengers. Since Jan. 1, 2021, the FAA has received approximately 3,100 reports of unruly behavior by passengers, including about 2,350 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal facemask mandate. During the same timeframe, the FAA has proposed $563,800 in fines against unruly passengers.
The cases are as follows:
- $22,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 15, 2021, SkyWest Airlines flight from Denver, Colo., to Gypsum, Colo. The FAA alleges the passenger repeatedly ignored flight attendants’ instructions to wear his facemask; walked through the cabin to the lavatory while the fastened seatbelt sign was on; and drank alcohol that SkyWest did not serve, which is against FAA regulations.
- $21,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 22, 2021, Southwest Airlines flight from Dallas, Texas, to Albuquerque, N.M. The FAA alleges that the passenger refused to wear his facemask before and after boarding the aircraft. While boarding the aircraft, flight attendants and the captain repeatedly told him to wear his mask. He placed a bandana over his face but later removed it in every instance. Prior to pushback from the gate, a Southwest customer service supervisor provided a sealed mask to the passenger and instructed him to wear it. Shortly after the plane doors closed and the aircraft taxied from the gate, he removed his mask again. As a result, the captain returned the aircraft from the runway to the gate. A customer service supervisor boarded the aircraft for a second time to escort him off. The passenger threw the mask at the supervisor, hit him in his jaw, and still refused to wear the mask while exiting the aircraft. Dallas police officers subsequently detained the passenger and issued him a citation for assault.
- $19,000 against a passenger on a Jan 20, 2021, SkyWest Airlines flight from Phoenix Ariz., to Hermosillo, Mexico. The FAA alleges that the passenger became angry when the crew notified passengers that the flight needed to return to Phoenix due to unfavorable weather in Mexico. The passenger began hitting the ceiling of the aircraft. After a flight attendant confronted him about his behavior, he requested the names of the pilots and the name and employee number of the flight attendant. He also began video recording the flight attendant on his cell phone. The flight attendant subsequently switched her station with another crew member. The FAA further alleges that as a result of his behavior, another flight attendant was compelled to recruit three able-bodied passengers to subdue the passenger, if that turned out to be necessary. When the plane landed back in Phoenix, he stood up to exit and hit a neighboring passenger in the right shoulder. Law enforcement was called to escort him off the aircraft.
- $15,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 7, 2021, Alaska Airlines flight from Chantilly, Va., to Seattle, Wash. The FAA alleges that while flight attendants were documenting who was not wearing a mask during the flight, the passenger assaulted a flight attendant by pushing or shoving him when he reached his row.
- $14,000 against a passenger on a Jan. 21, 2021, Allegiant Air flight from Syracuse, N.Y., to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The FAA alleges the passenger drank alcohol from a bottle that Allegiant didn’t serve to him, which is against FAA regulations. Consequently, a flight attendant confiscated the bottle. The FAA further alleges the passenger began shouting profanities at flight attendants and other passengers; refused to wear a mask after repeated instruction to do so; and was moved to the back of the plane in an attempt to separate him from other passengers. A flight attendant filed an in-flight disturbance form and then notified the captain of the incident. Law enforcement met him at the gate.
- $14,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 25, 2021, Endeavor Airlines flight from New York City, N.Y., to Portland, Maine. The FAA alleges that flight attendants repeatedly told the passenger to wear her mask properly. A flight attendant also gave her a Notice of U.S. Federal Regulation Violation. The passenger allegedly unfastened her seatbelt and stood while the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign was illuminated. Flight attendants notified the pilots of the situation, and law enforcement met the aircraft at the arrival gate.
- $10,500 against a passenger on a Feb. 25, 2021, Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles, Calif., to Sacramento, Calif. The FAA alleges that while the aircraft was on the runway prior to takeoff, the passenger was not wearing his mask and was talking on his phone. After two crew members instructed him to turn off his phone and wear his mask several times, he began to use profane language and told the flight attendants to go away. As a result, the captain returned the flight to the gate, and a Southwest customer service representative escorted the passenger off the aircraft. Law enforcement met the passenger on the jetway.
- $9,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 19, 2021, Allegiant Air flight from Greensboro, N.C., to St. Petersburg, Fla. The FAA alleges the passenger refused to wear his facemask during boarding and on the flight. Flight attendants repeatedly told him to wear his facemask and that facemasks must be worn in between sips of beverages and bites of food. He loudly argued with a flight attendant and began to unbuckle his seatbelt to stand and “get into it and get to the bottom of this” with the flight attendant. The flight attendant retreated several rows back. The passenger also began photographing and recording other passengers without their permission. Crew members notified the captain of his behavior but felt unsafe speaking with him again.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) reminded the traveling public on May 14 that if you travel, you are still required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States. Masks are also required in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.
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.
The FAA is strictly enforcing a zero-tolerance policy toward passengers who cause disturbances on flights or fail to obey flight crew instructions in violation of the FAA’s regulations or engage in conduct proscribed by federal law.
The passengers have 30 days after receiving the FAA’s enforcement letter to respond to the agency. The FAA does not identify individuals against whom it proposes civil penalties.