Curbing bad behavior in the sky has long been one of the most thankless parts of flight attendants’ job descriptions. But, while a typical year sees unruly incidents top out somewhere around 150, COVID-19 has caused chaos in the skies and has left flight attendants to endure more than ever.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Thursday announced that it has proposed another $531,545 in penalties against misbehaving airline passengers.
With those additions, the FAA’s 2021 total proposed fines for unruly behavior now exceeds more than $1 million across 3,889 incidents in the sky. Most of those incidents (2,867 or about 73%) come from passengers refusing to comply with the federal facemask mandate, which the FAA just extended through the end of the year.
Here are just some descriptions of a few of the incidents that flight attendants and others have been tasked with dealing with, according to the FAA:
- “$45,000 against a passenger on May 24, 2021, JetBlue Airways flight from New York, N.Y., to Orlando, Fla., for allegedly throwing objects, including his carry-on luggage, at other passengers; refusing to stay seated; lying on the floor in the aisle, refusing to get up, and then grabbing a flight attendant by the ankles and putting his head up her skirt. The passenger was placed in flexi-cuffs and the flight made an emergency landing in Richmond, Va.”
- “$32,500 against a passenger on Jan. 2, 2021, Southwest Airlines flight from Orlando, Fla., to Kansas City, Mo., for allegedly assaulting passengers around him because someone in his row would not change seats to accommodate his travel partner. He told his travel partner he would need to bail him out of jail for the physically violent crimes he threatened to commit. The captain returned the flight to the gate where law enforcement met the passenger. Southwest banned him from flying with the carrier in the future.”
- $30,000 against a passenger on Jan. 3, 2021, Frontier Airlines flight from Atlanta, Ga., to New York, N.Y., for allegedly interfering with the flight attendants’ deplaning procedures upon arrival. He attempted to gain entry to the flight deck by physically assaulting two flight attendants, threatening to kill one of them, and demanding them to open the door. The captain called for law enforcement to meet him after exiting.
Most famously this year, there was an incident of an unruly passenger on a Frontier flight from Philadelphia to Miami earlier this month when attendants had to duct-tape a passenger to a seat because of his behavior that went viral.
The FAA has taken extraordinary steps to try and get passengers to comply with the new COVID-19 rules, including a marketing campaign that asked passengers to treat airplanes like a trip to grandma’s house.
The problem has also become bad enough for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants to call it “out of control” and “coming to the point where we have to defend ourselves” earlier this year. And for Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade group for U.S. airlines, to write Attorney General Merrick Garland to urge “swift prosecution for cases of unruly passenger behavior.”
Now, the job to prosecute the reports will fall to local law enforcement (the FAA does not have criminal prosecutorial authority).