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

Mar 17, 2021

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Just days after announcing a $14,500 fine for an unruly passenger who forced a JetBlue flight to turn around in December, the FAA is doubling down on a message to air travelers: we’re not messing around.

On Wednesday, the federal agency announced a fine of $20,000 against one passenger and $12,250 against another who allegedly disrupted flights in late-December.

The two announced fines come days after the FAA said it would continue to crack down on disruptive behavior aboard planes, extending a zero-tolerance policy it implemented in January following numerous disruptive incidents on flights surrounding the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building.

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Both cases announced on Wednesday — like the one announced last week — involve face masks and occurred on JetBlue flights. 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.

The first incident, which took place on a December 27 flight from Boston to Puerto Rico, drew the larger fine. According to the FAA, a passenger allegedly refused to follow instructions from flight attendants to wear her face mask and fasten her seatbelt. Instead, the FAA says, the passenger shoved a flight attendant multiple times, shouted obscenities, and “threatened to have her fired.” The flight was diverted back to Boston so she could be removed.

The other incident, which occurred on December 31, bears remarkable similarities to the December 23 incident that was cited by the FAA last week. Both incidents occurred on flights from New York to the Dominican Republic, in both cases the passengers allegedly refused to wear face masks despite instructions from the flight crew, and both passengers allegedly drank alcohol that they brought on-board themselves — a violation of FAA rules.

The flight attendants reportedly issued the passenger a “Notice to Cease Objectionable Behavior” warning card, but the FAA said he became more agitated and uncooperative, shouting profanities and slamming the overhead bins. When the plane finally landed, the flight crew said the passenger got up while the plane was still taxiing and went to the lavatory. Police met the passenger at the gate in the Dominican Republic, although it was not immediately clear whether he was arrested.

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.

“Flying is the safest mode of transportation and I signed this order to keep it that way,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a press release Monday.

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

Fines can reach as high as $35,000, and criminal charges can also be filed.

“FAA’s recent enforcement actions have made clear to passengers that there are swift and severe consequences for interfering with crew members’ efforts to keep everyone safe,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said in a statement. “Flight Attendants applaud the FAA for keeping this policy in place.”

The FAA said it had sent enforcement letters to the two passengers, levying a civil penalty. The passengers have 30 days to respond, which can involve an appeal. However, there is no guarantee of the fine being changed.

Featured image by Eliyahu Yosef Parypa/Shutterstock

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