When it comes to unruly flyers, aviation watchdogs can spit and bite, too.
An American Airlines passenger who allegedly shoved a flight attendant and spit at crew members has been hit with the biggest fine ever issued by U.S. aviation regulators, and another fine topping $75,000 was issued to a Delta Air Lines passenger who bit a fellow passenger after trying to hug and kiss another.
Since January 2021 when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposed a zero-tolerance policy, the agency has proposed fines of about $7 million for disruptive passengers. Two new fines issued Friday were the highest yet.
The FAA proposed a $81,950 fine for an American Airlines passenger on a July flight from Dallas, Texas to Charlotte, North Carolina, alleging the passenger “threatened to hurt the flight attendant that offered help to the passenger after she fell into the aisle. The passenger then pushed the flight attendant aside and tried to open the cabin door.”
The FAA added “two flight attendants tried to restrain the passenger, but she repeatedly hit one of the flight attendants on the head. After the passenger was restrained in flex cuffs, she spit at, headbutted, bit and tried to kick the crew and other passengers.”
The agency also proposed a $77,272-fine for a Delta passenger on a July Las Vegas to Atlanta flight, alleging the passenger “attempted to hug and kiss the passenger seated next to her; walked to the front of the aircraft to try to exit during flight; refused to return to her seat; and bit another passenger multiple times.”
Delta said Friday it “has zero tolerance for unruly behavior at our airports and on our flights as nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and people.”
The FAA imposed its zero-tolerance mandate when unruly passenger incidents escalated around the time of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Incidents remained elevated after President Joe Biden’s administration imposed a mandate requiring passengers to wear masks on airplanes and in airports because of COVID-19 cases in February 2021.
The FAA said neither incident that led to Friday’s fines involved passengers who objected to wearing masks.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told ABC’s “The View” Friday that the administration’s mandate requiring masks on airplanes and in public transport will either expire or be renewed on April 18.
“We all want to get to where there are fewer restrictions. We just need to get to a point where it is safe to do that,” Buttigieg said. “Air travel is a little different than a lot of other environments but we would love to get there.”
Airlines and Republicans in Congress are pressing the White House to end the mask mandate and some lawmakers sent a new letter on Friday to Biden.
The FAA said since January 2021, there have been a record 7,060 unruly passenger incidents reported – and 70% involved masking rules – but the rate has declined 60% since its high in 2021.
The FAA said in February it has referred 80 unruly airplane passengers to the FBI for potential criminal prosecution.
Buttigieg said the administration and Congress are still looking at a “no-fly” list for unruly passengers.
(Reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)
Photo credit: Several airline CEOs have come out in favor of lifting mask mandates on planes. Source: International Monetary Fund / Flickr / Creative Commons. International Monetary Fund / Flickr