FAA hits unruly US passengers with record fines | air transport

An American Airlines passenger who allegedly pushed a flight attendant and spat on crew members has been fined the largest ever by US aviation authorities, and another fine of over $75,000 (£57,500) was imposed on a Delta passenger Air Lines, who bit a fellow passenger after attempting to hug and kiss another.

Since January 2021, when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposed a zero-tolerance policy, the agency has proposed about $7 million in fines for disruptive passengers. Two new fines imposed on Friday were the highest yet.

The FAA proposed a $81,950 fine to an American Airlines passenger on a July flight from Dallas to Charlotte, North Carolina, alleging that the passenger “threatened to hurt the flight attendant who offered to help the passenger after she had fallen into the aisle. The passenger then pushed the flight attendant aside and tried to open the cabin door.”

The FAA said: “Two flight attendants attempted to restrain the passenger, but she repeatedly struck one of the flight attendants in the head. After the passenger was restrained in flex cuffs, she [spat] hit the head, bitten and tried to kick the crew and other passengers.”

The agency also proposed a $77,272 fine for a Delta passenger on a July flight from Las Vegas to Atlanta, alleging the passenger “attempted to hug and kiss the passenger seated next to her; went to the front of the plane to disembark mid-flight; refused to return to her seat; and bitten another passenger multiple times”.

Delta said it has “zero tolerance for unruly behavior at our airports and on our flights, as nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and employees.”

The FAA imposed its zero-tolerance mandate when recalcitrant incidents involving passengers escalated around the time of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol. Incidents remained elevated after the Joe Biden administration issued a mandate in February 2021 requiring passengers to wear masks on planes and at airports due to Covid cases.

The FAA said none of the incidents leading up to Friday’s fines involved passengers who objected to wearing masks.

US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg told ABC’s View on Friday that the government’s mandate to require masks on planes and public transportation would either expire or be renewed on April 18.

“We all want to go where there are fewer restrictions. We just have to get to a point where it’s safe to do that,” Buttigieg said. “Air travel is a little different than many other environments, but we’d love to get there.”

Airlines and congressional Republicans are urging the White House to end the mask mandate, and some lawmakers sent a new letter to Biden on Friday.

The FAA said a record 7,060 unruly incidents involving passengers had been reported since January 2021, 70% of which involved mask rules, but the rate had fallen 60% from its 2021 peak.

The FAA said in February it had referred 80 unruly passengers to the FBI for possible prosecution.

Buttigieg said the administration and Congress are still considering a no-fly list for unruly passengers.

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