‘Unruly’ passenger faces $52,500 fine as FAA announces new penalties

National News

An airline passenger who tried to open the cockpit door and hit a flight attendant in the face twice is facing the year’s largest fine from the Federal Aviation Administration: $52,500. The passenger on a December 23 Delta airlines flight from Honolulu to Seattle is one of four “unruly passengers” the agency announced Monday it is seeking fines against under its zero-tolerance policy.

The increased fines come as the number of passengers is on the rise. More than 1.8 million people were screened Sunday by the Transportation Security Administration, the most since March 8, 2020, when the agency screened more than 1.9 million passengers. The number of airline passengers was down 61% in 2020.

The agency reports it has not screened fewer than a million people a day in more than two months, as the number of passengers hits roughly 70% of pre-pandemic screening levels.

The FAA says the passenger facing the largest fine also refused to comply with crew members’ instructions, threatened the flight attendant and slipped out of plastic cuffs during the flight, which was met by police when it landed.

While it’s unclear if this is the highest fine ever sought by the agency, it is the most announced this year. The largest fine the agency can seek is $35,000, but multiple offenses can result in a higher penalty, officials told CBS News.

The agency also announced it is seeking fines against three other passengers, who have 30 days to respond to the agency. One woman is facing a $9,000 fine for continually refusing to wear a mask properly and cursing at flight attendants on a February 15 Allegiant Air flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Knoxville, Tennessee.

A passenger on a February 5 flight is facing a $18,500 fine for bringing his own alcohol on board a JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale to Las Vegas and refusing to stop drinking it when asked by flight attendants. The FAA says he also kept removing his face mask and wearing it improperly despite the directions of flight attendants.

The agency is also seeking a $27,000 fine against a passenger whose threats to kill someone and that he had a bomb on a January 1, 2020 flight Southwest flight from Phoenix to Chicago. The flight had to be diverted to Oklahoma City and police took the man into custody when the plane landed.

The FAA said earlier this month it had received more than 1,300 reports of unruly passengers since February, a spokesman said, and identified “potential violations” in about 370 of those. So far, it is pursuing 27 enforcement actions. In 2019, the last full year for which data is available, the agency pursued action against 142 unruly passengers.

The airlines themselves have banned more than 4,000 passengers since mask mandates went into effect, as of February, according to data compiled by CBS News showed.

Of the reports to the FAA, the agency has initiated approximately 20 enforcement cases, a spokesman said earlier this month, and is “preparing a number of additional enforcement actions.”

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