FAA wants to fine JetBlue passenger more than $14,500 for alleged mask refusal, alcohol violation

Mar 12, 2021

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In recent months, the FAA promised stricter enforcement and tougher penalties for passengers who refuse to wear masks, harass other passengers, or otherwise disrupt flights.

On Friday, the agency followed up on its threats.

The FAA issued a proposed fine of $14,500 against a passenger who is alleged to have disrupted a JetBlue flight just before Christmas.

According to the FAA, the passenger “crowded the traveler sitting next to him” on the Dec. 23 flight from New York JFK to the Dominican Republic, while shouting and continuously pulling his mask down even though flight attendants instructed him to wear it several times.

You can view the FAA’s enforcement letter to the passenger at the bottom of this article.

JetBlue, like most U.S. airlines, requires all passengers traveling on board to wear face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal government began to require masks to be worn on planes and other forms of mass transit in January.

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The passenger was also allegedly drinking alcohol he brought on board with him — which is illegal under FAA regulations — and ignored the flight attendants when they told him to stop.

Eventually, the passenger was issued a formal “Notice to Cease Illegal and Objectionable Behavior,” and the captain decided to return to JFK to have the unruly person removed from the flight.

Although mask-use was not federally mandated at the time, interfering with or disregarding instructions from a flight crew member is prohibited.

Airlines and flight attendants have called for the federal government to step up enforcement of mask requirements several times — they doubled-down on calls after a number of disorderly incidents on flights in the lead-up to and aftermath of the attack on the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6.

“We’re not screwing around here — you just can’t with safety and health,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told TPG. Nelson has repeatedly called for backup from the federal government in dealing with mask violators.

More: CDC now recommends double-masking: TPG’s 9 favorite face masks and where to buy them

“Kudos to the FAA for backing up words with action,” she added. “This backs up the crew and relays to all other passengers that we’re serious about keeping them safe. Sit back, relax, and wear your mask!” The AFA represents flight attendants at 17 airlines, JetBlue cabin crew are represented by a different union.

The passenger has 30 days to respond to the FAA enforcement letter, which levies a civil penalty. The response can involve an appeal, but there is no guarantee of the fine being changed. It was not immediately clear whether the passenger also faced criminal charges, although the plane was met by Port Authority Police when it landed.

Redacted 2021EA0210 by David Slotnick

Featured photo by Craig Warga/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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