FAA Fines for Unruly Passengers This Year Surge Past $500,000

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The wave of air rage as U.S. airlines attempt to return to normalcy while the pandemic subsides has reached unprecedented levels, according to data released Tuesday.

So far this year, the Federal Aviation Administration has proposed $563,800 in fines against at least 60 people for violations ranging from striking flight attendants to repeatedly refusing to don protective face masks, the agency said in a release.

That includes $124,500 in penalties against eight people announced Tuesday. One is for a man on a Southwest Airlines Co. flight who allegedly hit a customer service agent in the jaw after refusing to wear a mask and an Alaska Airlines Inc. passenger who pushed a flight attendant, both in February.

“The FAA is strictly enforcing a zero-tolerance policy toward passengers who cause disturbances on flights or fail to obey flight crew instructions in violation of the FAA’s regulations or engage in conduct proscribed by federal law,” the agency said in the release.

The FAA has initiated 487 enforcement cases this year through Sunday, far exceeding the previous high for an entire year, 305 in 2004, the agency said. Of the 3,082 reports of unruly passengers in 2021 received by the FAA, 2,350 or 76% were related to face masks.

The sharp climb in incidents coincides with rising political tensions associated with the 2020 presidential election and conflicts over masks. Federal law requires people on airlines and other public transportation to wear masks to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Agency Administrator Steve Dickson announced on Jan. 13 that the agency was adopting a “zero tolerance” policy for misbehaving passengers. It came just a week after the Jan. 6 storming of Congress by supporters of President Donald Trump, many of whom had been disruptive on flights to and from Washington.

In spite of efforts to tamp down misbehavior on planes, incidents continue to occur with regular videos on social media including passengers striking flight attendants and volunteers holding down unruly violators at the behest of flight crews.

The FAA has no authority to bring criminal charges. A group of airline trade groups and industry unions on Monday sent a letter to the U.S. Justice Department seeking criminal charges against passengers.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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