The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has handed out its “largest-ever” fines against two unruly passengers.
One fine totalled to US$81,950 and the other was US$77,272, and both are part of US$2 million worth of penalties the agency has issued since January.
It comes as the regulator’s Zero Tolerance Policy, which was introduced in January last year, has decreased unruly incidents by almost 60 per cent, but the two fines show “more work remains”, according to the FAA.
“If you are on an airplane, don’t be a jerk and don’t endanger the flight crews and fellow passengers. If you do, you will be fined by the FAA,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told The View when he announced the fines.
The $81,950 fine involved a passenger on a 7 July 2021 flight on American Airlines, from Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, to Charlotte, North Carolina.
According to the FAA, the passenger allegedly “threatened to hurt the flight attendant that offered help to the passenger after she fell into the aisle”.
The passenger then pushed the flight attendant aside to try and open the cabin door, and other crew members restrained her, but she repeatedly hit the attendant on the head.
“After the passenger was restrained in flex cuffs, she spit at, headbutted, bit and tried to kick the crew and other passengers,” the FAA said.
Law enforcement apprehended her in Charlotte.
The $77,272 fine was issued to a passenger on a 16 July 2021 flight on a Delta Air Lines flight to Atlanta from Las Vegas.
The FAA alleges that the passenger attempted to hug and kiss a person seated next to her, then walked to the front of the aircraft to exit during the flight, refused to return to her seat and then “bit another passenger multiple times”.
Unruly passenger numbers have increased exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic, heightened by mask mandate policies.
Last year, the FAA issued over US$1 million in fines to unruly passengers, and airlines and associations across the industry called for stricter law enforcement due to the rising cases.
In July 2021, a survey was released by the Association of Flight Attendants revealing that 84 per cent of crew had handled at least one unruly passenger that year.
So far this year, 1,081 reports of unruly passengers have been made, to which just over 700 have been related to masks, according to the latest data on the FAA website.
Out of those reports, 309 were investigated further, and 159 required law enforcement action.
According to the FAA, the alleged passengers have 30 days after receiving a letter from the agency to respond.