The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday proposed fines ranging from $9,000 to $32,750 against four airline passengers who allegedly disobeyed crew instructions, refused to wear face masks or assaulted flight attendants ― part of a new zero-tolerance policy aimed at a troubling rise in unruly behavior.
The largest fine, $32,750, would be levied against a passenger on a JetBlue flight in February accused of refusing to wear a face mask, throwing food and an empty alcohol bottle, and grabbing and striking two flight attendants. The plane was turned around after the incident.
A fine of $16,500 would be imposed on a Southwest Airlines passenger who used offensive language and refused to leave a plane after being asked to wear a mask multiple times. The passenger hit a flight attendant with his bags when he was escorted off the aircraft.
Two other passengers would be fined $9,000 each for offenses related to mask-wearing or failure to follow crew instructions. Those cited by the FAA have 30 days to pay or appeal.
The FAA imposed what it called a zero-tolerance policy for passengers who fail to comply with crew orders following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, when a spate of air travelers refused to wear masks in defiance of COVID-19 safety rules.
“The agency will pursue legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crew members,” the FAA said at the time. “This dangerous behavior can distract, disrupt, and threaten crewmembers’ safety functions.”
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson extended the order indefinitely in March.
President Joe Biden this month extended a face mask mandate across U.S. transportation networks through Sept. 13. It includes airports and commercial airplanes.
The FAA said this week that airlines have reported around 1,300 passengers for unruly behavior since February, and the agency has identified about 260 cases for possible violations. Many of those cases center on refusal to wear masks on board.
In the previous decade, the FAA said it initiated a total of 1,300 enforcement actions, resorting to warnings except in the most extreme circumstances.
Prior to this year, the FAA would normally receive a report of unruly behavior every few days, according to CNN. Now, the agency gets multiple reports every day, even though passenger rates are below pre-pandemic levels.
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