FAA Proposes Civil Penalties against Four Passengers for Allegedly Interfering with Flight Attendants

Monday, May 17, 2021

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today proposed civil penalties ranging from $9,000 to $52,500 against four airline passengers for allegedly interfering with and, in one case, assaulting flight attendants who instructed them to obey cabin crew instructions and various federal regulations. 

The cases are as follows:

  • $52,500 against a passenger on a Dec. 23, 2020, Delta Air Lines flight from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Seattle, Wash. The FAA alleges that the passenger tried to open the cockpit door, repeatedly refused to comply with crew members’ instructions, and physically assaulted a flight attendant by striking him in the face and pushing him to the floor. The passenger then threatened the flight attendant by charging at him as he was trying to restrain the passenger. Flight attendants, with the help of another passenger, placed plastic handcuffs on the disruptive passenger. Later, the passenger freed himself from one of the handcuffs and struck the flight attendant in the face a second time. Police boarded the aircraft after it landed and took the passenger into custody.

  • $27,000 against a passenger on a Jan. 1, 2020, Southwest Airlines flight from Phoenix, Ariz., to Chicago, Ill. The FAA alleges that after taking his seat, the passenger began yelling and forcefully banging his hands on the seat in front of him, disturbing nearby passengers. During the flight, he yelled that he was going to kill someone and that he had a bomb and was going to blow up the aircraft. Because of his behavior, flight attendants relocated several nearby passengers, and the captain diverted the flight to Oklahoma City. Police took the passenger into custody after the plane landed.

  • $18,500 against a passenger on a Feb. 5, 2021, jetBlue Airlines flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to Las Vegas, Nev. The FAA alleges that a flight attendant saw the passenger holding several mini bottles of alcohol that the airline had not served to him. The flight attendant told him multiple times that he could not drink his personal alcohol on the flight, but the passenger continued to do so. Additionally, flight attendants told him he had to wear his facemask over his mouth and nose unless he was eating or drinking, but he continually removed his facemask or wore it improperly. The disturbances that the passenger caused required flight attendants to alert the pilots about his behavior, which distracted them from performing their duties and responsibilities.

  • $9,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 15, 2021, Allegiant Air flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to Knoxville, Tenn. The FAA alleges that a flight attendant instructed the passenger to wear her facemask over her mouth and nose as she boarded the flight. After the plane departed, a flight attendant again told her to wear her mask because she didn’t have it on. The passenger rolled her eyes and did not put on her mask. When the flight attendant again asked her to put on the mask, she put it on without covering her mouth and nose and used an expletive in saying she would not wear it. Later, she came to the front of the plane to use the lavatory and sat in the exit row because the lavatory was occupied. After the flight attendant told her she could not sit in the exit row, she got up, stood close to the flight attendant without wearing her mask over her mouth and nose, and screamed at the flight attendant. When another flight attendant attempted to provide the passenger with a disturbance form, the passenger began to curse, telling the flight attendants they couldn’t do anything.

Federal law prohibits interfering with aircraft crew or physically assaulting or threatening to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft. Passengers are subject to civil penalties because such misconduct can threaten the safety of the flight by disrupting or distracting cabin crew from their safety duties. Additionally, federal law provides for criminal fines and imprisonment of passengers who interfere with the performance of a crewmember’s duties by assaulting or intimidating that crewmember. 

The FAA is strictly enforcing a zero-tolerance policy toward passengers who cause disturbances on flights or fail to obey flight crew instructions in violation of the FAA’s regulations or engage in conduct proscribed by federal law. 

The passengers have 30 days after receiving the FAA’s enforcement letter to respond to the agency. The FAA does not identify individuals against whom it proposes civil penalties.