Refusing Masks, Smoking Weed and More: Unruly Passengers Still Disrupt U.S. Flights

April 18, 2022

The Federal Aviation Administration announced its largest ever fine for unruly behavior this month, demanding $81,950 from a woman who was duct-taped to her seat on an American Airlines flight to Charlotte in July.

According to the FAA, the woman threatened to hurt a flight attendant after falling into the aisle. The passenger then pushed the flight attendant aside and tried to open a cabin door.

That passenger is just one of thousands of people reported to the FAA for unruly behavior on planes since 2021. And the FAA has issued roughly $2 million in fines since Jan. 1, 2022.

FAA data suggest that unruly passenger incidents may still be dropping, even though investigations initiated by the FAA into unruly passengers remain high.

In late 2021, the FAA linked a drop in unruly passenger incidents to its Zero Tolerance campaign and high fines as a strong deterrent for dangerous and unruly behavior on planes.

The FAA could surpass 2021 in the number of investigations initiated this year if it continues at the same rate. In 2021, the FAA initiated 1,113 investigations. So far in 2022, the agency has initiated 345 investigations.

In total, 5,981 unruly passenger incidents were reported to the FAA in 2021. In the first three and a half months of 2022, the FAA has recorded 1,150 reports of unruly passenger incidents.

In 2021, the FAA proposed $5 million in fines against unruly passengers, a record for the agency.

No matter what the number ends up being at the end of 2022, people are still doing bizarre things on planes.

Among the fines issued in 2021 was a $17,000 penalty for a woman flying to Charlotte in February 2021. She was removed from the plane in Key West, Florida, after drinking alcohol, refusing to wear a mask and trying to vape on board the aircraft, according to the FAA.

Investigations into unruly passenger incidents took a big jump in 2021 compared to earlier years.

In 2020, just 183 investigations were initiated. And in 2019, 146 investigations were initiated.

Other big FAA fines

Risks to passengers:The agency announced its second largest fine ever this month too. A passenger flying Delta Airlines from Las Vegas to Atlanta in July 2021 was fined $77,272.

The woman attempted to hug and kiss the passenger next to her, walked to the front of the plane to try to exit during the flight, refused to return to her seat and bit another passenger multiple times, according to the FAA.

The plane’s crew had to physically restrain the passenger.

Alcohol and marijuana:In November 2021, the FAA announced more than $161,000 in fines against eight passengers for alcohol-related unruly behavior.

One person was fined $40,823 after the passenger drank their own alcohol during the flight, sexually assaulted a flight attendant and smoked marijuana in the plane bathroom. That passenger was arrested after the flight, a Southwest Airlines flight from San Jose to San Diego in April 2021.

Face masks:Another person was fined $17,000 after unruly behavior on a JetBlue Airlines flight from New York City to Ecuador. The passenger drank alcohol that was not served by the airline, which is against federal regulations. And the passenger urinated on the bathroom floor, verbally abused the crew and refused to wear a face mask, according to the FAA.

That flight was diverted to Fort Lauderdale, Florida because of the unruly passenger, according to the FAA.

Complaints about face masks have spurred a number of the unruly passenger incidents, according to the FAA.

Out of the 1,150 reports of unruly passengers so far this year, 744 have been related to face masks.

Physical assault: Also in November 2021, the FAA announced $225,287 in fines issued against 10 passengers for unruly behavior including physical assault.

One man was fined $26,787 after punching a flight attendant on a May 2021 Southwest Airlines flight from New York City to Chicago.

The man attempted to enter the cockpit during the plane’s final descent, according to the FAA.

After he returned to his seat, he incorrectly thought the plane was already at the gate and tried to remove his luggage from the overhead bin. Flight attendants got the man to sit on the floor and held him down, when he began punching one of them. Law enforcement met the passenger at the gate.

Another passenger was fined $25,000 after a Southwest Airlines flight from Boston to Chicago in February 2021. The woman refused to stow her carry-on luggage in the overhead bin and was told she could not continue on the flight.

Instead of leaving the plane, she sat in a seat, held onto the armrest and shouted and cursed at crew members. As she later left the plane, she spat on a crew member.

Police met the woman at the gate.

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