FAA fines passenger a record $52,500 as crackdown on disruptive passengers continues

May 17, 2021

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced the highest penalty to date against an unruly passenger as part of its zero-tolerance crackdown.

The agency said on Monday that it had issued a civil fine of $52,500 against a passenger on a December 23, 2020 Delta flight from Honolulu (HNL) to Seattle (SEA).

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According to the agency, the passenger allegedly tried to open the cockpit door, ignored crewmember instructions, and hit a flight attendant in the face, knocking him over and threatening him. Flight attendants and another passenger eventually managed to subdue the violent passenger, restraining him with a set of plastic handcuffs. However, the passenger was able to wriggle out of the handcuffs and hit the same flight attendant again.

When the flight landed, the passenger was arrested, the FAA said.

Three passengers on different flights were also fined for disruptive behavior aboard flights, the agency said Monday.

One was fined $27,000 after allegedly making a scene and forcing a Southwest flight from Phoenix (PHX) to Chicago Midway (MDW) to divert to Oklahoma City (OKC). The FAA says that the passenger beat his hands on the seat in front of him, and yelled that he was going to kill someone and had a bomb. Police arrested the man once the plane landed.

The other two fines were for more “routine” unruly behavior.

One passenger on a February 5 JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Las Vegas (LAS) was fined $18,500 after allegedly drinking alcohol that he brought on board himself, despite multiple warnings from flight attendants that it was illegal. He also refused to wear his mask properly, the FAA said.

The last passenger was fined $9,000 after allegedly refusing to wear a mask and shouting profanities at flight attendants on a February 15 Frontier Airlines flight from Fort Lauderdale to Knoxville, Tennessee (TYS).

More: Masks still required during air travel as CDC loosens indoor mask guidelines for fully vaccinated people

In recent months, the FAA has announced hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines against disruptive passengers, although that may only be the tip of the iceberg. The agency says that since February, it has received more than 1,300 reports of unruly passengers from U.S. airlines. So far, 370 of those cases have been flagged as potential violations, with enforcement action taken against 27 to date.

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.

The fines come two weeks after the FAA issued the previous record fine — $32,750 — against a passenger, and several months after the FAA said it would continue to crack down on disruptive behavior aboard planes. Numerous incidents have involved passengers drinking their own alcohol or refusing to wear masks on board flights — although new CDC guidance allows for relaxed mask use among fully vaccinated people, masks are still required on public transportation until at least September.

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.

Featured image by Colorblind Images LLC/Getty Images

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