The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing $161,823 in civil penalties against eight airline passengers for alleged unruly behavior involving alcohol. Since Jan. 1, 2021, the FAA has received nearly 300 reports of passenger disturbances due to alcohol and intoxication.
Federal law prohibits passengers from consuming alcohol aboard a flight that is not served by a flight attendant.
In August, the FAA administrator sent a letter to airports requesting that they work to prevent passengers from bringing “to-go” cups of alcohol aboard the aircraft.
The rate of unruly passenger incidents on commercial flights has dropped sharply since the FAA launched its Zero Tolerance campaign but the rate remains too high.
The new cases announced on November 22 are:
- $40,823 against a passenger on an April 15, 2021, Southwest Airlines flight from San Jose, Calif., to San Diego, Calif. The FAA alleges the passenger drank their own alcohol during the flight, and continued to do so after a flight attendant told the passenger that was prohibited. The passenger then sexually assaulted the flight attendant. As the flight was descending into San Diego, the passenger entered the lavatory and smoked marijuana. The flight crew asked for law enforcement to meet the plane at the arrival gate. Police arrested the passenger for resisting arrest and public intoxication.
- $24,000 against a passenger on a March 31, 2021, Delta Air Lines flight from Fort Meyers, Fla., to Detroit, Mich. The FAA alleges the passenger repeatedly took off his facemask after crewmembers told him multiple times to keep it on. He repeatedly swore at other passengers and accused them of stealing his property. After crewmembers asked him multiple times to calm down, he yelled at one of them, “This is America. This is free speech. What don’t you understand?” The passenger was reseated in the last row and a crewmember sat next to him because he had become a security risk. He appeared to be intoxicated and admitted he had been drinking in the airport before the flight. He then jumped out of his seat, stood very close to a crewmember as if he would lunge at her, pointed his finger in her face and yelled, “You!” The flight crew decided it was necessary for security reasons to divert to Atlanta, and asked for law enforcement to meet the plane at the gate. The flight arrived 45 minutes late in Detroit because of the diversion.
- $17,000 against a passenger on an April 16, 2021, jetBlue Airlines flight from New York City, N.Y., to Guayaquil, Ecuador. The FAA alleges the passenger drank alcohol that the airline did not serve to him, which is against federal regulation. The FAA further alleges the passenger urinated on the lavatory floor, verbally abused the flight crew, and refused to follow crew instructions to wear a facemask. The flight diverted to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., due to his actions.
- $16,000 against a passenger on a Jan. 24, 2021, Delta Air Lines flight from San Francisco, Calif., to Atlanta, Ga. The FAA alleges the passenger was told on two occasions that she could not drink her own mini bottles of alcohol on the flight. When the flight attendant approached her the second time, she finished the bottle in front of the flight attendant, who spoke with her about the alcohol rules. In response, the passenger pulled her mask down, came very close to the flight attendant’s face, demanded the flight attendant’s name and employee number, and began filming the flight attendant. The flight diverted to Las Vegas, and the crew asked for law enforcement to meet the passenger at the gate.
- $34,250 against a passenger on a March 14, 2021, American Airlines flight from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, to Burbank, Calif. The FAA alleges the passenger refused to wear his facemask several times at the beginning of the flight, including during the time he was asleep. When he woke, a flight attendant asked him to put his facemask on and asked if he wanted a drink or sandwich. He responded that he wanted a refund for the flight because he was skipped for food and beverage service. The flight attendant said they couldn’t offer a refund and that he was not offered service initially because he was sleeping. He declined service and refused to wear his mask. A second flight attendant brought him a new mask and after several attempts to serve him, he requested an alcoholic beverage. The flight attendant made and delivered the drink. After he finished the drink, a flight attendant reminded him to wear his mask in between sips and after drinking. He argued that he was drinking and brought the empty glass to his lips. He continued to be combative during the flight and requested another alcoholic beverage. He was served another drink but threw the drink to the floor and stomped on it while the flight attendant was serving other passengers. He approached the flight attendants to ask for a third alcoholic beverage when a nearby passenger said he had had enough to drink and that he was out of line. The passenger began yelling profanities at the other passengers and crew. A flight attendant de-escalated the situation, and law enforcement was requested to meet the passenger at the arrival gate. He continued to not wear his mask properly for the remainder of the flight.
- $12,500 against a passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight from Dallas, Texas, to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with a stop in Nashville, Tenn. The FAA alleges that during the flights, flight attendants had to ask the passenger multiple times to wear his mask properly over his mouth and nose. During the stop in Nashville, he consumed his own alcohol on board the plane after mixing it in a soft drink. A flight attendant told him that was prohibited and confiscated the drink. After a Southwest Airlines operations agent boarded the plane and told him not to consume his own alcohol and wear his facemask, he agreed. However, during the flight from Nashville to Fort Lauderdale, he went to the lavatory, mixed his own alcohol with a soft drink, and threw the empty liquor bottle into the toilet. When flight attendants tried to confiscate the drink, he quickly consumed it. The crew contacted law enforcement and gate security at Fort Lauderdale, and the passenger was escorted off the aircraft. Flight attendants subsequently found multiple empty mini alcohol bottles belonging to him.
- $9,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 3, 2021, United Airlines flight from Chicago, Ill., to Windsor Locks, Conn. The FAA alleges that, when flight attendants told the passenger that there were no alcoholic beverages or snacks available, he shouted profanities at them. He continued to yell and use profane language after a flight attendant led him to view the beverage cart to show no alcohol or snacks were available. The passenger also repeatedly pulled down his facemask throughout the flight. A flight attendant contacted the captain to request that a customer service representative meet the passenger at the arrival gate. The passenger then interfered with the flight attendant by taking photos and videos of the flight attendant. The captain and first officer were contacted a second time to request law enforcement to meet the passenger at the gate.
- $8,250 against a passenger on a May 14, 2021, Allegiant Air flight from Grand Rapids, Mich., to Punta Gorda, Fla. The FAA alleges that during the in-flight beverage service, the passenger and three others each ordered Bloody Mary mix and ice. The passenger then removed a bottle of vodka from his carry-on bag. Despite a crewmember’s warning that he could not drink his own alcohol, he passed the bottle to the other three passengers. A crewmember saw him consuming his own alcohol, again informed him of the prohibition, and asked him to hand over the bottle. The passenger handed over one empty and one half-full bottle, and told the crewmember to “kiss my a** and get away.” The passenger then became loud, argumentative and rude. When a crewmember handed him a notice warning that his behavior violated FAA regulations, he crumpled it up, threw it, called the crewmember a vulgar name and flipped her off as she walked by his seat.
The passengers have 30 days after receiving the FAA’s enforcement letter to respond to the agency. These latest fines are part of the agency’s Zero Tolerance campaign against unruly passenger behavior. In September, the FAA met with airports, airlines, unions and industry partners to discuss what additional efforts the FAA and aviation stakeholders can take to prevent unruly passenger incidents.
The FAA launched a public awareness campaign to engage with airline passengers, flight attendants, pilots, and travelers on this issue. Campaign items to discourage unruly behavior include the FAA Kids Talk PSA and other content across its social media platforms.
The FAA does not have criminal prosecutorial authority but is working with the FBI and Department of Justice to refer cases as appropriate.
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.