FAA recommends a record $81,950 fine for unruly passenger
By Heather Murphy
Amid a pandemic-fueled surge in bad behavior on airplanes, the Federal Aviation Administration is pushing for an $81,950 fine, the largest the agency has ever recommended against an unruly passenger, for a woman who stands accused of hitting, spitting at, head-butting and biting flight crew members in July.
“If you are on an airplane, don’t be a jerk and don’t endanger the flight crews and fellow passengers,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on “The View” last Friday as he announced the fine. “If you do, you will be fined by the FAA.”
The FAA is also recommending a $77,272 fine, another record, for a woman who the agency says “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” on a flight from Las Vegas to Atlanta in July. The FAA did not name the passengers involved in the incidents, which occurred on flights operated by American Airlines and Delta Air Lines.
The recommended fines telegraph that the FAA is not ready to back down on disciplining problematic passengers. Though passengers have been wreaking occasional havoc in the sky since the earliest days of air travel, the pandemic seems to have created the conditions for frequent and extreme unruliness.
Between February and November of last year, for example, the FAA said that it had received more than 1,300 unruly-passenger reports from airlines. That’s around the same number that the agency recommended for enforcement actions in the previous decade. Many of the incidents stem from conflict over the Transportation Security Administration’s mandate that masks be worn on planes and other forms of public transportation. Masks were not involved in either of these incidents, according to the FAA.
The mask mandate is set to expire on April 18, and on “The View” Buttigieg said it would either expire or be renewed by then.
The bad behavior does not seem to have let up in recent months. The agency has proposed about $2 million in fines against unruly passengers so far this year, although that does not mean that much money was collected. Passengers who are fined have the option to pay, dispute the violation or provide documentation showing they are not able to pay the fine.
Previously, the steepest fine the agency had recommended was a $52,500 fine for a passenger who was accused of trying to open the cockpit door and assaulting flight attendants who tried to stop him, according to the FAA.
It was not clear if the FAA had recommended criminal prosecution — something that it occasionally does — for the passengers involved in the two July incidents.