September 2021 | Volume 13, Issue 2

Note: This article, “FAA Fines Against Disruptive Airline Passengers Tops $1 Million Mark” makes an excellent companion piece to discuss with “FAA Proposes More Than $500,000 in New Fines Against Unruly Airline Passengers."

According to the article, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s FAA announced recently it has proposed more than $531,000 in new fines against 34 airline passengers on commercial flights for a variety of reckless behaviors, including refusing to wear masks, pushing the total amount of proposed penalties in 2021 above $1 million.

The FAA stated they have received approximately 3,889 reports of unruly behavior by passengers dating back to the start of the year, including about 2,867 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal facemask mandate. An example: A passenger on a mid-May JetBlue flight from New York to San Francisco has been assessed a $42,000 fine for allegedly making stabbing gestures towards passengers and "snorting what appeared to be cocaine from a plastic bag." 

Half of all newly reported incidents, 17 out of the 34, involve flights to or from Florida.

Dating back to 2020, there’s been an alarming rise in the number of air rage incidents in which flight attendants have been assaulted or threatened. The new FFA report cites a man who allegedly threw his carry-on luggage at other passengers before "grabbing a flight attendant by the ankles and putting his head up her skirt" on a JetBlue flight from New York to Florida in late May. The FAA has proposed a $30,000 fine for a passenger on a Jan. 3 Frontier flight from Atlanta to New York whom they accuse of trying to gain entry to the flight deck by physically assaulting two flight attendants and threatening to kill one of them.

"The first time we take one of these jerks who is assaulting flight attendants or attempting to take an aircraft down — and they go away for a few years and they get a massive fine— I think that will send a message," House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) told the media earlier this week. 

In early January, the FAA announced the adoption of a Zero-Tolerance policy, with administrator Steve Dickson signing an order directing a "stricter legal enforcement policy" against unruly passengers following a spike in extreme incidents on planes and in airports. In August, the FAA sent a letter to airports requesting they work closely with local law enforcement to prosecute offenders. Although the FAA is permitted to levy civil fines against disorderly passengers, it has no authority to prosecute criminal cases. In their letter, the FAA noted their investigations determined alcohol frequently contributes to unsafe behavior. As a result, they requested airports make an effort to prevent passengers from bringing "to-go" cups of alcohol onto planes. The FAA also suggested that airports bring greater awareness to the issue through "signage, public service announcement, and concessionaire education." Earlier this week, the Transportation Security Administration said it would extend existing mask requirements for public transportation through the end of the year.