Unruly passengers face thousands in fines, flight attendants seeing more altercations than ever

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Airline travel for the holidays may be returning to pre-pandemic levels but passenger behavior is not. So-called “air rage” is at its peak with more flyers becoming unruly and at times assaulting flight attendants.

Association of Flight Attendants surveyed 5,000 flight attendants. It found flight attendants found more than half of them have experienced at least five incidents of unruly passengers this year. One in five were involved in a physical altercation.

“It’s a problem that’s not going away,” said Paul Hartshorne, Jr. with the Association for Professional Flight Attendants. The organization represents the 26,000 flight attendants at American Airlines.

He said it was a federal offense to interfere or disrupt the duties of a crew member including a flight attendant.

However, so far this year, the FAA said they’ve received 5,443 reports of unruly passengers. Of those, 72 percent were masked-related incidents. Just 266 cases have resulted in civil penalties like fines.

“We’re doing a lot right now. Most importantly, we need to increase the fines and also make passengers know that jail time will be involved for those that are prosecuted,” Hartshorne said.

Right now the FAA can impose a fine of up to $37,000 per violation. A single incident can have multiple violations.

Hartshorne said flight attendant unions are working with Congress and the Department of Transportation to implement a no-fly list.

“It is dangerous. If someone is on one airline and abuses the flight crew or abuses other passengers on board, that we’ve been seeing as well, they should not be able to buy a ticket on another airline two weeks later,” Hartshorne said.

Unruly passengers make up a small portion of the millions who fly every day. Until stiffer penalties are put in place Hartshorne said everyone can do their part to keep the skies peaceful.

“We need to have respect for one another and we’re hoping we can see that return to kindness,” he said.

The head of the DOJ recently directed federal prosecutors to prioritize cases involving unruly passengers.

The FAA has issued more than a million dollars worth of fines this year to unruly passengers. Below are some of those cases:

  • $32,000 against a passenger on a May 18, 2021, Horizon Air flight from Austin, Texas, to San Francisco, Calif. The FAA alleges the passenger did not follow crew instruction to fasten her seatbelt. She punched and screamed at her husband and son, repeatedly, diverting flight attendants from their duties. She threw trash at a flight attendant, and snatched cookies from a nearby passenger.
  • $24,000 against a passenger on a Dec. 27, 2020, Delta Air Lines flight from Detroit, Mich., to Salt Lake City, Utah. The FAA alleges she refused to follow crew instruction to wear her mask, threatened crewmembers, cursed at crewmembers and shoved a crewmember.
  • $20,000 against a passenger on a Jan. 4, 2021, Delta Air Lines flight from New York, N.Y., to Los Angeles, Calif. The FAA alleges the passenger yelled orders at multiple flight attendants while the plane taxied from the gate. He removed his seatbelt, left his seat while the fastened seatbelt sign was on, and refused to return to his seat after a flight attendant instructed him to do so. He threatened a flight attendant by saying he was going to “[expletive] up his a**.” While moving up and down the aisle during taxiing, he made physical contact with a flight attendant, and continued yelling profanities. The flight returned to the gate and law enforcement officers were forced to board the flight to remove the man.
  • $17,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 28, 2021, Republic Airlines flight from Key West, Fla., to Charlotte, N.C., for interfering with crewmembers after failing to comply with the facemask mandate; drinking alcohol not served by the airline; and attempting to use a vape pen. The aircraft returned from the gate and she was removed from the aircraft.
  • $17,530 against a passenger on an April 16, 2021, jetBlue Airways flight from San Diego, Calif., to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for interfering with crewmembers after failing to comply with the facemask mandate; vaping on the aircraft; and drinking alcohol not served by the airline. Law enforcement met him at the gate.
  • $9,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 7, 2021, Allegiant Air flight from Orlando, Fla., to Pittsburgh, Penn., for disruptively arguing with his wife during the boarding process; arguing with flight attendants who told his son to stop vaping; and yelling at the flight attendant “imagine all of you in body bags” as he was being escorted off the aircraft.

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