The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has imposed fines on unruly airline passengers totaling over $70,000 in the last number of weeks, after adopting a zero-tolerance policy on interfering or abusing flight attendants onboard.
The federal agency, along with flight attendant unions, have noted a “disturbing increase” in the numbers of passengers who physically or verbally assault flight attendants, or otherwise interfere with their duties, in the ongoing aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to both parties, the increase in aggressive behaviour in-flight is largely a by-product of passengers being federally mandated to wear face masks while flying.
“We will not tolerate interfering with a flight crew and the performance of their safety duties,” Stephen Dickson, the administrator of the FAA, said on Twitter, “Period.”
Doing so now carries a fine of up to $35,000 as well as the possibility of jail time.
Recently, the FAA has dished out fines to four individuals totalling $70,000, for disrupting or assaulting cabin crew mid-flight.
One passenger was recommended a fine of $32,750 after refusing to wear a face mask onboard a JetBlue flight between the Dominican Republic and New York, and twisting and striking the arms of multiple flight attendants on board.
The passenger also scratched a flight attendant’s arm and hand, threw an empty liquor bottle in the cabin that nearly hit other passengers, threw food around the cabin, and shouted aggressive obscenities at flight attendants, according to the FAA.
The FAA also served a $10,500 fine to a passenger who repeatedly ignored orders to put on a face mask, and then coughed and blew his nose into an airline-provided blanket onboard a flight from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles in December.
In January, a passenger on board a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Sacramento refused to wear his mask, and reportedly became combative and used offensive language when a second flight attendant made him aware of the federal mandate.
The passenger proceeded to hit one of the flight attendants with his bags when he was ordered to leave the plane prior to take-off. The FAA recommended a $16,500 fine for this passenger.
Passengers are given 30 days to contest fines.
The FAA has reported it has received over 1,300 reports of unruly passengers from airlines since February alone. Meanwhile, airlines have collectively banned over 3,000 people from flying due to refusing to wear a face mask.
Further, president of the Association of Flight Attendants union Sara Nelson recently penned an opinion piece on NBCNews.com, where she stated that flight attendants are being driven out in droves due to increased abuse from passengers in their place of work.
“What’s causing these incidents?” she asked, “Overwhelmingly, it’s passengers who refuse to wear masks.”
Nelson wrote that flight attendants don’t give passengers the option to choose whether or not to wear an oxygen mask in the case of an emergency, or the option to wear seatbelts during take-off, landing and turbulence.
“We’re also trained to help stop the spread of infectious disease. We’re not just enforcing these long-overdue mask policies because we have to: We understand that masks are a way we keep ourselves and each other safe,” she said.
“And we’re grateful policymakers are backing us up.”