FAA Seeks Further Penalties Against Unruly Passengers

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is continuing to crack down on bad behaviour. Most recently, the FAA has proposed penalties ranging from US$9,000 to $52,500. This follows some egregious instances of passenger misconduct.

One Delta passenger is facing a $52,500 fine after a major disturbance on a Honolulu-bound flight. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/Simple Flying

FAA cracks down on unruly passenger behavior

With bad behavior rising in airports and on airlines, the FAA is now enforcing a zero-tolerance policy towards passengers who cause inflight disturbances or ignore follow crew instructions. The policy was to last until March 31 but has since been extended.

Airlines have referred approximately 1,300 cases of passenger bad behavior to the FAA since February. Driving the rise in bad behavior, which can range from minor disturbances to a significant ruckus, is the face mask regime. The FAA also cites a spike in bad behavior inflight around the time of the January disturbances in Washington DC.

Federal law forbids interfering with aircraft crew or physically assaulting or threatening to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft. When it comes to interfering with the performance of a crewmember’s duties by assaulting or intimidating that crewmember, federal law provides for criminal fines and imprisonment.

Since early this year, the FAA has toughened its stance against unruly passengers. The agency had a previous policy of issuing warning letters in many cases.

“The FAA has seen a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior,” says FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. Mr Dickson said flying was the safest mode of travel. He also noted that by cracking down on bad behavior, he intended to keep it that way.

The FAA’s Steve Dickson has no time for misbehaving passengers. Photo: Getty Images

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Proposed fines ranges from $9,000 to $52,500

Most recently, the FAA has proposed fines against a range of passengers. That includes a $9,000 fine for an Allegiant Air passenger who refused to wear a face mask correctly. That passenger also declined to follow instructions from a flight attendant, and swore at crew members. A JetBlue passenger faces a hefty $18,500 fine after refusing to correctly wear his face mask and continuing to drink his own alcohol inflight after being asked not to.

A Southwest Airlines passenger upped the bad behavior stakes on New Year’s Day. As a result, he is now facing a $27,000 fine. His behavior was so bad, he was taken into police custody after the plane diverted to Oklahoma City. According to the FAA,

“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.”

A Southwest passenger faces a substantial fine after an inflight bomb threat. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/Simple Flying

A Delta passenger wins the bad behavior prize

The FAA is saving its biggest proposed fine, $52,500, for a Honolulu-bound Delta passenger. That passenger tried to open the cockpit door, refused to follow instructions, and then repeatedly physically assaulted a flight attendant. Police met the plane on arrival, and the man was taken into custody.

Earlier this month, Delta Air Lines said it had banned around 1,200 passengers for failing to wear a face mask or not wearing a face mask properly. However, the airline notes not all cases made it to the FAA.

Airlines and their employees who work on the frontline and face the brunt of passenger misconduct have welcomed the FAA’s tough stance. Delta CEO Ed Bastian has outlined his view on badly behaved passengers. While he does not speak for other airlines, he has captured the general consensus.

“Those who refuse to display basic civility to our people or their fellow travelers are not welcome on Delta. Their actions will not be tolerated, and they will not have the privilege of flying our airline ever again.”