FAA Administrator: We’re Not Putting Up With Unruly Airline Passengers

The Federal Aviation Administration has come down hard on unruly airline passengers, having already levied more than $330,000 in fines this year, and will not be letting up on its zero-tolerance policies for people who insist on misbehaving while on the nation’s commercial aircraft, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said Tuesday. 

“We have the safest aviation system in the world and we need to keep it that way,” Dickson said on CNN’s “New Day.” “These actions are designed to make sure that we get this situation under control. Yesterday, we announced the largest fine that we have ever imposed on an individual on an aircraft. A single incident can result in a fine and potential jail time, with the fine of up to $35,000 for individual events.”

The FAA has proposed a fine of $52,500, its largest fine yet, against a passenger from a Delta Air flight who in December allegedly tried to open the plane’s cockpit door while en route from Honolulu to Seattle before hitting a flight attendant in the face and pushing the employee to the floor, reports ABC News.

Other flight attendants and a passenger were able to put plastic handcuffs on the alleged offender, but he freed himself and hit the first flight attendant in the face again. 

Police boarded the plane when it landed in Seattle and arrested the passenger, according to the FAA. 

Dickson told CNN that there has been a rise in “unruly passenger events” over the past few months, with a “significant increase” in misbehavior taking place. 

“It’s something that we’re always tracking and always monitoring, along with the air carriers and airline employees,” he said. “In a typical year, we may have 100 to 150 enforcement actions that we take.”

Part of the uptick is coming from people who refuse to wear a mask, which is a requirement both of the Transportation Security Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but that’s not the only reason some passengers are facing hefty fines, said Dickson. 

Earlier this month, the FAA reported that the nation’s airlines have referred approximately 1,300 reports on unruly passengers to it since February, with the agency identifying potential violations in about 260 cases.

“We also have events that are related to consumption of alcohol and even threatening or assaulting flight attendants,” Dickson said. “The crew members are there for passenger safety, so it’s really important that passengers follow crew members’ directions and not distract them from their safety duties. That is something that we’re really concerned about. That’s why we adopted the zero-tolerance policy.”

Dickson first signed the policy in January, extended it in March, and is stretching it out longer because of the continued incidents in the skies. Passengers who find themselves facing a civil penalty for unruly behavior, which can be imposed without a warning needing to be given first, do have some options, including either paying the full fine or contesting it. 

“We are watching the rates very closely,” he said Tuesday. “Traffic is ramping up here in the summer. It’s still about 20% below pre-pandemic levels, but as traffic levels increase, we continue to monitor the situation. We have extended the program currently to Sept. 13, which is when the TSA security directive currently is planned to expire for all forms of public transportation. Then we’ll look at where the data is after that to see if we keep the program in place beyond that point.”

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