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FAA reports that unruly behavior aboard flights is at an all-time high

Don’t mess with the TSA or the FAA because they won’t hesitate to fine passengers who act up

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Photo (c) SergeyChayko - Getty Images
Believe it or not, a great number of people are still acting up onboard airplanes. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it has received close to 1,300 reports of unruly passengers since February. That figure represents an all-time high for unruly behavior -- an interesting twist given the fact that fewer people are traveling because of the pandemic.

In a normal, non-pandemic year, the FAA usually gets somewhere between 100 and 150 reports of poor passenger behavior. 

What does bad behavior look like?

Of the 1,300 reports, the FAA identified 260 potential violations and initiated approximately 20 enforcement cases to put those passengers on notice. Among those 20 cases, the FAA shared details of three passengers that it plans to fine for allegedly interfering with or assaulting flight attendants who instructed them to obey cabin crew instruction and various federal regulations.

On a JetBlue flight from Haiti to Boston, Massachusetts, the FAA alleges that a passenger drank alcohol that they brought onboard -- a definite no-no. When the passenger started yelling and waving his hands, other passengers complained and flight attendants stepped in. That’s where things got bad. The passenger allegedly grabbed the arms of two flight attendants during the flight, and the cabin crew needed to reseat surrounding passengers. The flight crew asked law enforcement to meet the aircraft at the arrival gate, and police escorted the passenger off the plane; they're being fined $31,750. 

Interestingly enough, there was another passenger on the same flight who did pretty much the same thing -- drinking personal alcohol and becoming unruly. The only thing that kept that traveler from being fined at the same level as the first passenger is that they “made motions” to strike a flight attendant but didn’t physically touch them. Their fine? $16,750.

Another incident the FAA shared involves a passenger -- and, again, their own liquor -- on a Jan. 14, 2021, SkyWest Airlines flight from Yuma, Arizona, to Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. The FAA claims the passenger drank multiple 50 ml bottles of their own alcohol during the flight. After the passenger repeatedly turned around and tried to touch another person behind them, flight attendants moved the intoxicated traveler to another seat. However, the passenger continued to bother other nearby flyers after being moved. 

At one point, two off-duty law enforcement officers had to physically wrestle the passenger back into their seat, but they got up again and started to walk to the front of the aircraft. A flight attendant yelled at the passenger to sit back down, and the law enforcement officers sat behind them. As a result of the passenger’s behavior, the captain requested priority handling from air traffic control and asked that law enforcement meet the aircraft at the arrival gate. The fine for this person? $14,500.

Forewarned is forearmed

The FAA wants travelers to know that when it comes to behavior, it’s not putting up with any nonsense. In fact, the FAA’s unruly-passenger zero-tolerance policy has been extended until further notice.

“The policy directs our safety inspectors and attorneys to take strong enforcement action against any passenger who disrupts or threatens the safety of a flight, with penalties ranging from fines to jail time. The number of cases we’re seeing is still far too high, and it tells us urgent action continues to be required,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement.

At the same time, the Transportation and Safety Authority (TSA) extended its mask mandate and said it will act accordingly against those who violate it. The existing civil penalty fine structure starts at $250 and rises to $1,500 for repeat offenders who violate the rule.

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