As airlines continue to see a dramatic increase in unruly and dangerous passenger behavior on commercial flights, federal officials are responding with heftier fines aimed at deterring disruptive conduct.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday that it will seek fines totaling more than $100,000 against four passengers on flights in the last several months.
The biggest is a proposed civil penalty of $52,500 against a man who was arrested after trying to open the cockpit door and striking a flight attendant in the face on a Dec. 23 Delta airlines flight from Honolulu to Seattle. The largest fine the agency can seek is $35,000, but multiple offenses can result in higher penalties, the FAA said.
The FAA says its "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."
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In January, FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson signed an order stating that unruly passengers will no longer get warnings under its new "zero-tolerance" policy. Instead, the agency said, it will launch legal enforcement actions. Penalties can includes fines and jail terms for passengers who assault or threaten airline crews or other passengers. In March, the policy was extended indefinitely, just two week before it was set to expire.
Earlier this month, the FAA levied a $32,750 fine against a passenger on a JetBlue flight in February who is 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.
Airlines say they've had more than 1,300 unruly passengers this year. Many of the cases involve passengers who appear intoxicated or refuse to wear face masks.
Sarah Nelson, the union president for the Association of Flight Attendants, told NBC's TODAY show, “What we have seen on our planes is flight attendants being physically assaulted, pushed, choked.” She added that one passenger even spit in the mouth of a child during a flight.
With experts expecting the summer travel season to be a busy one, the FAA is hoping its zero-tolerance policy will deter unruly behavior.