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FAA cracks down on abusive, maskless flyers with fines up to $32,750

May 05, 2021
4 min read
FAA cracks down on abusive, maskless flyers with fines up to $32,750
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Ignoring instructions from a flight attendant on a commercial flight is a bad idea. Interfering with a flight attendant is a worse idea. Assaulting flight attendants? Really not smart.

The FAA believes that not everyone has gotten the message, however, and says its determined to drive it home.

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The agency said on Wednesday that it had issued civil fines, ranging from just under $9,000 to more than $30,000, against four passengers who allegedly refused to follow crewmember instructions — or worse — during their flights.

The biggest fine, $32,750, was levied against a passenger on a Feb. 7 JetBlue flight from the Dominican Republic to New York-JFK. According to the FAA, the passenger ignored instructions to wear a face mask, threw an empty bottle and food, shouted and cursed at flight attendants, and then assaulted two employees, grabbing one's arm, and hitting and scratching the other.

On top of all of that, the passenger was allegedly drinking alcohol that she brought onboard herself — a violation of FAA rules. In fact, several other passengers have fined in recent weeks for consuming booze they brought onboard.

The JFK flight ended up returning to the Dominican Republic.

You can read the full enforcement letter sent to the passenger by the FAA at the bottom of this article.

Related: If you threaten a Delta employee, you could lose your SkyMiles

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A $16,500 fine was issued against a passenger from a January 26 Southwest flight from Chicago to Sacramento. That passenger allegedly refused to wear a face mask fully over his nose and mouth when he boarded, and then again when he took his seat. Eventually, he became combative, the FAA says, hitting a flight attendant with a bag and calling crewmembers "pathetic" when he was asked to leave the plane.

The other two passengers were each fined $9,000. The first allegedly stood up and began pacing the aisle during takeoff on a Dec. 22, 2020 Delta flight from Minneapolis to Philadelphia. The FAA claims she refused to sit back down, repeatedly saying that she wanted to get off the plane. The flight turned around and returned to Minneapolis.

The other $9,000 fine was issued to a passenger who persistently refused to wear a face mask on a Jan. 30 Alaska Airlines flight from Bozeman, Montana to Seattle. As the plane pushed back and taxied towards the runway, flight attendants repeatedly instructed the man to wear a mask that they provided, but after he allegedly continued to refuse, the plane returned to the gate.

U.S. airlines require passengers to wear masks during flights, and the Biden administration said last week that it would extend a federal mask requirement on public transportation until at least September.

The four passengers have 30 days to respond to the FAA fines, which are considered a civil penalty. The response can involve an appeal, but there is no guarantee of the fine being changed.

More: The FAA is getting serious about unruly fliers — you can be fined up to $35,000 if you misbehave

The fines come two weeks after the FAA issued violations against passengers involved with a series of booze-fueled incidents, and two months after the FAA said it would continue to crack down on disruptive behavior aboard planes. The recent fines have been highly publicized actions taken under a zero-tolerance policy that the FAA implemented in January following numerous disruptive incidents on flights surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building.

Under the zero-tolerance policy, the FAA said it will pursue legal enforcement against anyone involved with an “unruly passenger” incident on a flight. Normally, the FAA uses discretion to choose from among several approaches, including formal warnings and counseling.

FAA enforcement letter:

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Best for the well-traveled foodie
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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

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  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
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  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
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  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
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  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees