The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has handed out an additional US$531,545 in fines to unruly passengers, predominately to travellers on low-cost carriers.
The additional penalties were handed out to 34 airline passengers, bringing the total to over US$1 million in fines for 2021.
According to the American regulator, fines have significantly increased due to alcohol consumption and mask mandates which have continued to be extended.
Since 1 January, the FAA has received almost 4,000 reports of unruly behaviour by passengers, and almost 3,000 not complying with the mask mandate.
The highest penalty came from a passenger on the budget carrier JetBlue, receiving a US$45,000 fine in May for throwing objects, refusing to stay seated and assaulting a flight attendant.
The second was also from JetBlue, receiving a US$42,000 fine in May for interfering with crew members in refusal of the facemask mandate.
While numerous carriers reported few fines, JetBlue, Frontier and Allegiance Airlines’ passengers led the increase, all having over five travellers receive penalties.
In July, a survey was released by the Association of Flight Attendants revealing that out of 5,000 staff interviewed, 84 per cent had handled at least one unruly passenger this year.
The increase in penalties comes as the FAA implemented a Zero Tolerance campaign against unruly passengers.
In early August, the regulator sent a letter to urge airport leaders to crack down on unruly passengers to prosecute more “egregious cases” to limit the rise.
“While FAA has levied civil fines against unruly passengers, it has no authority to prosecute criminal case,” said the letter.
It added that law enforcement had been called multiple times to airports for these situations.
“Many of these passengers were interviewed by local police and released without criminal charges of any kind,” the regulator said.
“When this occurs, we miss a key opportunity to hold unruly passengers accountable for their unacceptable and dangerous behaviour.”
This followed an open letter sent to the US Department of Justice in June from numerous airline associations asking for heightened policies and “stricter legal enforcement” against unruly passengers.
According to the FAA, originally, up to US$35,000 fines could be distributed to unruly passengers, but now the rise has lifted the penalty significantly.
“Our investigations show that alcohol often contributes to this unsafe behaviour,” the FAA said.
It added that although alcohol has been prohibited in airlines, “we have received reports that some airport concessionaires have offered alcohol ‘to go’”.
“Airports can help bring awareness to this prohibition on passengers carrying open alcohol onboard their flights in 14 CFR 121.575 through signage, public service announcements, and concessionaire education,” the FAA said.