Skift Take

Fines for unruly passengers are rising, but without prosecutorial authority, the Federal Aviation Administration's hands are tied. If disruptive and dangerous behavior is going to come to an end, the FAA must be given the means to make unruly passenger behavior the crime that it is. It's time for Congress to step up to the plate.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed new fines against unruly flyers that now brings the total levied so far this year to more than $1 million.

The agency on Thursday said it is proposing an additional $531,545 in civil penalties against 34 airline passengers for disorderly behavior.

Those new FAA fines in its “zero-tolerance” policy bring the total of penalties brought against unruly passengers since January to more than $1 million, many for disputes over refusing to wear masks on board. On Tuesday, the agency announced it was extending its mask mandate through 2022.

How much has the FAA collected, and what is it doing to enforce it?

“Federal regulations give individuals several opportunities to challenge the FAA’s fine. Because of this, we remain early in the process on fines collected,” FAA spokesperson Emma Duncan told Skift in an email.

Besides paying the fine in full, Duncan said passengers receiving penalty notices from the FAA have several options available to them, including disputing the fine by providing information the violation didn’t occur or doesn’t warrant the penalty amount proposed.

Other options include requesting a meeting to discuss the case with the FAA, requesting a hearing with an administrative law judge, and appealing the judge’s decision with an FAA Administrator or show they’re financially incapable of paying such fines.

In a recent letter to airport leaders earlier this month, the FAA asked airports and its concessionaires to help in bringing awareness to passengers and cracking down on passengers’ disruptive behavior.

While the FAA can levy fines and penalties against unruly passengers, it does not have the authority to prosecute or bring criminal charges to passengers. And if a passenger decides to request a hearing, the case will go through litigation, with the judge’s or appellate decisions becoming final.

The most serious of the latest penalties include $45,000 for a passenger flying on JetBlue in May from New York to Orlando. The passenger allegedly threw objects at other passengers, including his carry on luggage, was refusing to stay seated. The FAA said he was lying on the aisle floor and grabbed a flight attendant by the ankle before putting his head up her skirt.

These incidents led to an emergency landing in Richmond, Virginia, the FAA said.

A JetBlue flight from New York to Orlando was diverted to Minneapolis in May after a passenger allegedly interfered with crew members, failing to comply with mask mandates and snorting what appeared to be cocaine from a plastic bag before it was confiscated by flight attendants.

The passenger who allegedly made stabbing gestures to certain passengers and non consensual physical contacts with others, is being fined $42,000.

A Southwest passenger traveling from Orlando to Kansas City in January was fined $32,500 for allegedly assaulting passengers around him who refused to move and accommodate his travel partner. The FAA said the passenger told his travel companion he’d need bailing out for violent crimes he threatened to commit. The flight was returned to the gate and he was banned from flying by Southwest.

Other fines include $32,500 against a passenger on a Jan. 2, 2021, Southwest Airlines, and $30,000 against a passenger on a Jan. 3, 2021, Frontier Airlines flight from Atlanta to New York, for allegedly interfering with the flight attendants’ deplaning procedures in New York.

The FAA said the Frontier passenger tried gaining entry to the flight deck by threatening to kill one flight attendant, physically assaulting two, and demanding them to open the door.

A JetBlue passenger refusing to comply with the mask mandate, shouting obscenities at the flight crew and intentionally bumping into a seated passenger on the way to the lavatory, received $29,000 in fines was levied for the April flight from Boston to Orlando.

The FAA said when the seated passenger objected to being bumped, the unruly passenger punched the passenger in the face and law enforcement met the plane at the gate.

The agency also levied $25,500 against a Frontier Airlines passenger on a March flight from Orlando to Providence, Rhode Island, for allegedly screaming obscenities at passenger next to her and flight attendant, repeatedly kicking the aircraft bulkhead, throwing corn nuts at passengers, and locking herself in the lavatory for 30 minutes.

Lessor fines include $19,000 against an American airlines passenger on a Miami to Nashville flight in February and $17,530 against a passenger on an April JetBlue flight from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale for allegedly interfering with crewmembers after failing to comply with the facemask mandate.

A female passenger flying Republic airlines in February from Key West to Charlotte was fined $17,000 for allegedly interfering with crew members by attempting to vape, drinking alcohol not served by the airline, and failing to comply with the mask mandate.
An Allegiant passenger traveling from Lexington, Kentucky to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in January, was fined $16,700 for allegedly smoking in the lavatory.

Additionally, the FAA said a few days later, the same passenger was on their return flight and allegedly cursed at crew members, verbally and physically assaulting passengers.

A JetBlue passenger who, when questioned, said a flight attendant tried kissing him, stole his money and that he’d hit her again if he saw her, was fined $15,000 for allegedly striking the flight attendant on the nose on a May flight from New York to Kingston, Jamaica. The flight returned to the gate.

Two other passengers received fined of $15,000 each, four passengers were fined $13,000, five received penalties of $10,500 each, and eight passengers were levied penalties of $9,000.

The remaining FAA Zero-Tolerance fines announced on Thursday ranged from $7,500 for threatening to kill a passenger to $10,315 for vaping during the boarding process and screaming at flight attendants.

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Tags: airlines, coronavirus recovery, faa, fines, unruly passengers

Photo Credit: Passengers are boarding a flight in this scaled photo as the U.S. government fines for unruly passenger behavior are rising. Matthew Hurst / Flickr