Two unruly flight passengers could face largest-ever fines
The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday said it wants to impose its largest-ever fines on two airline passengers involved in violent incidents last summer.
The FAA has proposed a civil penalty of $81,950 against a passenger who struck a flight attendant on the head, tried to open a cabin door and headbutted, spit at and tried to kick crew members and passengers even after she was placed in flexible handcuffs. The incident happened on an American Airlines flight last July and the passenger was later arrested.
The FAA is also seeking a $77,272 fine against a woman who tried to open a cabin door during a flight and bit another passenger repeatedly before she was restrained by the crew on a Delta Air Lines flight from Las Vegas to Atlanta last July.
The passengers, neither of whom was identified, have 30 days to respond to the accusations.
The FAA said the fines are part of roughly $2 million in proposed penalties it has announced since January 1.
Airlines have reported a high number of unruly passenger incidents since early 2021 with most of them involving passengers who refuse to wear face masks. Airlines began enforcing federal mask mandates in June 2020, and the FAA implemented its zero-tolerance policy regarding unruly behavior in January 2021.
There has been an "unprecedented increase in assaults from violent passengers," Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said before a U.S. Senate hearing in December. The rise in unruly passengers has prompted Delta Airlines to push for a federal no-fly list. Delta has already banned 1,600 passengers on its own airplanes.
Airlines have reported 1,081 unruly passenger incidents so far in 2022, according to the FAA. About 700 of those incidents involved face masks, the agency said.
For instance, a recent AeroMéxico flight from Toronto to Mexico City was diverted to Texas because three passengers appeared to be intoxicated had refused to wear their masks.
Assaulting a flight crew member is a federal offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Passengers who have been fined for assaulting, threatening, intimidating or interfering with a crew member could be removed from TSA PreCheck screening eligibility, the Transportation Security Administration and Federal Aviation Administration have said.