Airlines are tired of their misbehaving customers, and their customers are evidently tired of them and misbehaving even more. The behavior of airline passengers is now coming to a head, however, with a request that the U.S. Justice Department get involved.
In a letter to the Justice Department, Airlines of America, pilots associations, unions, and others, the aviation community is asking the federal government to take a more rigid stand to enforce against “egregious behavior” aboard airlines.
“We highly commend the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) for adopting a stricter legal enforcement policy against unruly airline passengers through Administrator Dickson’s Special Emphasis Enforcement Program. We especially appreciate FAA’s ongoing efforts to investigate incidents, levy civil penalties for passengers’ behavior that interferes with crewmembers and publicize its enforcement actions. These efforts include FAA’s announcements of a combined $368,000 in civil penalty actions against 21 passengers to date,” the airline association wrote.
“However, we ask that more be done to deter egregious behavior, which is in violation of federal law and crewmember instruction. Specifically, the federal government should send a strong and consistent message through criminal enforcement that compliance with federal law and upholding aviation safety are of paramount importance,” Airlines of America continued.
Since January 13, the FAA has received more than 3,039 reports of unruly behavior onboard airlines, and has opened 465 investigations into assaults, threats of assault, or interference with crew members. The FAA has pursued some form of enforcement action more than 400 times through May, compared to a year-end total of 146 in 2019. Presumably the number is less for 2020, since much of airline travel was shut down.
Through the third week of May, the FAA had reported action taken against several passengers, with fines levied from $9,000 to $15,000. FAA said there were about 1,900 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the “federal facemask mandate,” including one case on Alaska Airlines on Jan. 7, 2021, when people returning from the election protest in Washington, D.C. were returning to SeaTac International Airport.
The cases are as follows:
- $15,000 against a passenger on a Jan. 7, 2021, Alaska Airlines flight from Washington-Dulles International Airport to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The FAA alleges the passenger pushed and/or shoved a flight attendant when flight attendants walked down the aisle to document which passengers were not wearing facemasks.
- $15,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 22, 2021, jetBlue Airlines flight from Miami, Fla., to Los Angeles, Calif. The passenger was seated in the main cabin. The FAA alleges another passenger brought her a glass of champagne, headset and food from the first-class section. A flight attendant noticed the main-cabin passenger had those items, picked them up, and carried them back to the first-class section. The main-cabin passenger yelled obscenities at the flight attendant and followed him to the first-class section, then assaulted the flight attendant by hitting him with her body and almost pushing him into the lavatory. As a result of her actions, the captain diverted the plane to Austin, Texas, where the main-cabin passenger was removed from the aircraft.
- $15,000 against a passenger on a Jan. 10, 2021, jetBlue Airlines flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to Los Angeles, Calif. The FAA alleges the passenger twice drank his own alcohol after flight attendants told him it was prohibited. The passenger also talked on his cell phone during the flight. After the flight attendant again told him those activities were not allowed, he repeatedly yelled at the flight attendant. Flight attendants notified the pilots about the passenger’s behavior, which distracted them from performing their duties.
- $10,500 against a passenger on a March 17, 2021, jetBlue Airlines flight from Orlando, Fla., to New York City. The FAA alleges that after the boarding door had closed and following multiple announcements about the requirement to wear facemasks, the passenger was not wearing his facemask or not wearing it so it covered his mouth and nose. Flight attendants repeatedly instructed him to wear his facemask properly. Each time, he failed to comply with the instructions and used profanity. A flight attendant knelt down next to him, quietly asked him to lower his voice, and reminded him of the facemask requirement. He refused to comply and continued to yell and use profanity. Flight attendants notified the captain, who called for a station agent and ground security coordinator to board the aircraft. When they arrived and asked the passenger to get off the plane, he became combative and irate and loudly refused to get off. The captain then called for law enforcement. After law enforcement arrived, the passenger continued to be combative and irate and initially refused to get off the aircraft. When he gathered his belongings to leave the plane, he started screaming at a flight attendant. The passenger’s actions delayed the flight’s departure by 28 minutes.
- $9,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 20, 2021, Southwest Airlines flight from Oakland, Calif., to Houston, Texas. The FAA alleges a flight attendant asked the passenger to pull his facemask up so it covered his nose. The passenger refused to comply with the instruction. The flight attendant then gave the passenger a mask, and he threw it on the floor, saying he would not wear it. The flight attendant explained the CDC and TSA mask requirement again and asked the passenger to acknowledge what she was saying. He said he would not comply with the policy and that facemask-wearing would not be enforced in Texas. The cabin crew alerted the captain about the passenger’s behavior, and the captain arranged for law enforcement to meet the aircraft when it arrived in Houston.
Those signing the letter to the Justice Department were:
Airlines for America
Air Line Pilots Association
Allied Pilots Association
Association of Flight Attendants
Association of Professional Flight Attendants Coalition of Airline Pilots Association National Air Carrier Association
Regional Airline Association
Southwest Airlines Pilots Association Transport Workers Union of America