The Federal Aviation Administration announced its latest round of civil fines against passengers who can’t keep their cool. Eight people face a combined $161,823 in penalties in actions from assaulting a flight attendant to urinating on a floor, all while allegedly intoxicated.
As of November 16, the FAA has received 5,240 reports of unruly passengers. It has initiated 991 investigations, a record, tripling the previous high of 310 investigations from 2004. Most of these reports — 3,798 — are mask-related. Some passengers have gotten violent, sometimes for quite possibly the dumbest reasons.
The agency can fine unruly passengers up to $37,000 per violation, but it lacks the authority to criminally prosecute them.
The FAA has linked a number of the incidents to passengers allegedly getting drunk before and during flights, prompting a push to stop airport concession stands from serving to-go alcohol. The latest round of fines perfectly illustrate why some passengers can’t be trusted with their drink. Take this incident for example:
$24,000 against a passenger on a March 31, 2021, Delta Air Lines flight from Fort Meyers, Fla., to Detroit, Mich. The FAA alleges the passenger repeatedly took off his facemask after crewmembers told him multiple times to keep it on. He repeatedly swore at other passengers and accused them of stealing his property.
After crewmembers asked him multiple times to calm down, he yelled at one of them, “This is America. This is free speech. What don’t you understand?” The passenger was reseated in the last row and a crewmember sat next to him because he had become a security risk. He appeared to be intoxicated and admitted he had been drinking in the airport before the flight. He then jumped out of his seat, stood very close to a crewmember as if he would lunge at her, pointed his finger in her face and yelled, “You!”
The flight crew decided it was necessary for security reasons to divert to Atlanta, and asked for law enforcement to meet the plane at the gate. The flight arrived 45 minutes late in Detroit because of the diversion.
The FAA says that is has received about 300 reports of passenger disturbances linked to alcohol and intoxication this year. In September, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA called on the FAA, airlines and airports to do more to stop unruly passengers. After all, flight attendants are often the ones facing the brunt of these passengers’ bad behavior.
Of the eight passengers in this round, the highest fine — $40,823 — goes to this passenger:
$40,823 against a passenger on an April 15, 2021, Southwest Airlines flight from San Jose, Calif., to San Diego, Calif. The FAA alleges the passenger drank their own alcohol during the flight, and continued to do so after a flight attendant told the passenger that was prohibited. The passenger then sexually assaulted the flight attendant.
As the flight was descending into San Diego, the passenger entered the lavatory and smoked marijuana. The flight crew asked for law enforcement to meet the plane at the arrival gate. Police arrested the passenger for resisting arrest and public intoxication.
The FAA relies on local authorities to hold passengers accountable outside of its fines. Many unruly passengers get interviewed by police, but released without charges.
Thankfully, the rate of unruly passenger incidents has been cut in half since the beginning of the year. Some airlines, like Southwest and American, are no longer serving alcohol until 2022. Hopefully, these incidents continue to decline and the skies become a bit more friendly.