FAA’s Significant Civil Penalties For Unruly Passengers

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FAA instituted a zero-tolerance policy for misbehaving passengers in January and started to propose significant civil penalties instead of counseling and warnings.

The FAA releases statements of cases it has ruled on and assessed passengers with civil cash penalties. The agency has already issued 394 actions as of May 25 in 2021, more than in any other year since 1995.

FAA Unruly Passenger fines since 1995:

FAA’s zero-tolerance policy:

Download (PDF, 309KB)

Here are the cases that FAA has processed in May:

  • $15,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 22, 2021, jetBlue Airlines flight from Miami, Fla., to Los Angeles, Calif. The passenger was seated in the main cabin. The FAA alleges another passenger brought her a glass of champagne, headset and food from the first-class section. A flight attendant noticed the main-cabin passenger had those items, picked them up, and carried them back to the first-class section. The main-cabin passenger yelled obscenities at the flight attendant and followed him to the first-class section, then assaulted the flight attendant by hitting him with her body and almost pushing him into the lavatory. As a result of her actions, the captain diverted the plane to Austin, Texas, where the main-cabin passenger was removed from the aircraft.
  • $15,000 against a passenger on a Jan. 10, 2021, jetBlue Airlines flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to Los Angeles, Calif. The FAA alleges the passenger twice drank his own alcohol after flight attendants told him it was prohibited. The passenger also talked on his cell phone during the flight. After the flight attendant again told him those activities were not allowed, he repeatedly yelled at the flight attendant. Flight attendants notified the pilots about the passenger’s behavior, which distracted them from performing their duties.
  • $15,000 against a passenger on a Jan. 7, 2021, Alaska Airlines flight from Washington-Dulles International Airport to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The FAA alleges the passenger pushed and/or shoved a flight attendant when flight attendants walked down the aisle to document which passengers were not wearing facemasks.
  • $10,500 against a passenger on a March 17, 2021, jetBlue Airlines flight from Orlando, Fla., to New York City. The FAA alleges that after the boarding door had closed and following multiple announcements about the requirement to wear facemasks, the passenger was not wearing his facemask or not wearing it so it covered his mouth and nose. Flight attendants repeatedly instructed him to wear his facemask properly. Each time, he failed to comply with the instructions and used profanity. A flight attendant knelt down next to him, quietly asked him to lower his voice, and reminded him of the facemask requirement. He refused to comply and continued to yell and use profanity. Flight attendants notified the captain, who called for a station agent and ground security coordinator to board the aircraft. When they arrived and asked the passenger to get off the plane, he became combative and irate and loudly refused to get off. The captain then called for law enforcement. After law enforcement arrived, the passenger continued to be combative and irate and initially refused to get off the aircraft. When he gathered his belongings to leave the plane, he started screaming at a flight attendant. The passenger’s actions delayed the flight’s departure by 28 minutes.
  • $9,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 20, 2021, Southwest Airlines flight from Oakland, Calif., to Houston, Texas. The FAA alleges a flight attendant asked the passenger to pull his facemask up so it covered his nose. The passenger refused to comply with the instruction. The flight attendant then gave the passenger a mask, and he threw it on the floor, saying he would not wear it. The flight attendant explained the CDC and TSA mask requirement again and asked the passenger to acknowledge what she was saying. He said he would not comply with the policy and that facemask-wearing would not be enforced in Texas. The cabin crew alerted the captain about the passenger’s behavior, and the captain arranged for law enforcement to meet the aircraft when it arrived in Houston.
  • $52,500 against a passenger on a Dec. 23, 2020, Delta Air Lines flight from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Seattle, Wash. The FAA alleges that the passenger tried to open the cockpit door, repeatedly refused to comply with crew members’ instructions, and physically assaulted a flight attendant by striking him in the face and pushing him to the floor. The passenger then threatened the flight attendant by charging at him as he was trying to restrain the passenger. Flight attendants, with the help of another passenger, placed plastic handcuffs on the disruptive passenger. Later, the passenger freed himself from one of the handcuffs and struck the flight attendant in the face a second time. Police boarded the aircraft after it landed and took the passenger into custody.
  • $27,000 against a passenger on a Jan. 1, 2020, Southwest Airlines flight from Phoenix, Ariz., to Chicago, Ill. The FAA alleges that after taking his seat, the passenger began yelling and forcefully banging his hands on the seat in front of him, disturbing nearby passengers. During the flight, he yelled that he was going to kill someone and that he had a bomb and was going to blow up the aircraft. Because of his behavior, flight attendants relocated several nearby passengers, and the captain diverted the flight to Oklahoma City. Police took the passenger into custody after the plane landed.
  • $18,500 against a passenger on a Feb. 5, 2021, jetBlue Airlines flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to Las Vegas, Nev. The FAA alleges that a flight attendant saw the passenger holding several mini bottles of alcohol that the airline had not served to him. The flight attendant told him multiple times that he could not drink his personal alcohol on the flight, but the passenger continued to do so. Additionally, flight attendants told him he had to wear his facemask over his mouth and nose unless he was eating or drinking, but he continually removed his facemask or wore it improperly. The disturbances that the passenger caused required flight attendants to alert the pilots about his behavior, which distracted them from performing their duties and responsibilities.
  • $9,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 15, 2021, Allegiant Air flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to Knoxville, Tenn. The FAA alleges that a flight attendant instructed the passenger to wear her facemask over her mouth and nose as she boarded the flight. After the plane departed, a flight attendant again told her to wear her mask because she didn’t have it on. The passenger rolled her eyes and did not put on her mask. When the flight attendant again asked her to put on the mask, she put it on without covering her mouth and nose and used an expletive in saying she would not wear it. Later, she came to the front of the plane to use the lavatory and sat in the exit row because the lavatory was occupied. After the flight attendant told her she could not sit in the exit row, she got up, stood close to the flight attendant without wearing her mask over her mouth and nose, and screamed at the flight attendant. When another flight attendant attempted to provide the passenger with a disturbance form, the passenger began to curse, telling the flight attendants they couldn’t do anything.
  • $10,500 against a passenger on a Dec. 27, 2020 jetBlue Airlines flight from Ft. Lauderdale International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport. The FAA alleges the passenger repeatedly ignored, and was abusive to, flight attendants who instructed him to wear a facemask. At one point, while not wearing a mask, he coughed and blew his nose into a blanket. The passenger’s disruptive behavior diverted flight crewmembers from their duties.
  • $9,000 against a passenger on a March 16, 2021 jetBlue Airlines flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport. The FAA alleges the passenger acted in a disruptive manner while boarding the flight. He yelled, slammed overhead bins, and shouted profanities at the cabin crew, including threatening to harass a flight attendant during the entire flight. He also shouted profanities at the captain when the captain entered the cabin to ensure the passenger got off the plane. Law enforcement met the passenger at the boarding gate and escorted him out of the terminal.
  • $32,750 against a passenger on a Feb. 7, 2021 jetBlue Airlines flight from the Dominican Republic to New York. The FAA alleges the passenger failed to comply with multiple flight attendant instructions to wear a facemask; threw an empty alcohol bottle into the air, almost hitting another passenger; threw food into the air; shouted obscenities at crew members; grabbed a flight attendant’s arm, causing her pain; struck the arm of another flight attendant twice and scratched his hand; and drank alcohol that had not been served to her by the cabin crew. As a result of the passenger’s actions, the flight returned to the Dominican Republic.
  • $16,500 – against a passenger on a Jan. 26, 2021 Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago, Ill., to Sacramento, Calif. The FAA alleges the passenger refused to comply with a flight attendant’s instruction to wear his mask over his nose and mouth when he boarded the aircraft and again when he took his seat. When a second flight attendant instructed the passenger to wear his mask over his nose and mouth, he became combative and used offensive language. A supervisor came on board and asked the passenger to leave the plane. As the passenger walked with his luggage toward the exit door, he called each of the two flight attendants “pathetic,” and hit one of the flight attendants with his bags.|
  • $9,000 against a passenger on a Dec. 22, 2020 Delta Air Lines flight from Minneapolis, Minn., to Philadelphia, Penn. The FAA alleges the passenger got out of her seat during takeoff, began walking up and down the aisle, and repeatedly said she wanted to get off the aircraft. Multiple flight attendants repeatedly told the passenger to return to her seat and fasten her seatbelt, but she refused to comply. As a result, the flight returned to Minneapolis.
  • $9,000 against a passenger on a Jan. 30, 2021 Alaska Airlines flight from Bozeman Mont., to Seattle, Wash. The FAA alleges the passenger did not comply with the airline’s facemask policy while boarding the plane, and flight attendants provided him with a facemask. The passenger was not wearing a mask when the plane left the gate, and flight attendants reminded him of the airline policy. Flight attendants repeatedly asked him to put on a mask as the plane taxied to the runway, but he failed to do so. As a result of his actions, the captain returned the flight to the gate and the passenger was removed from the plane.

Conclusion

It seems that the main issues are passengers with trouble wearing their face masks and those who cannot control their drinking.

$52,500 civil penalty for a passenger is a significant amount compared to fines airlines usually are assigned when they break DOT policies, and even then they only need to pay half (the other half is only payable if they again break the same rule within a certain time frame.

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