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Unruly passengers on planes can face fines and other consequences – but it’s unclear how many reports lead to penalties

Unruly air passengers risk hefty fines

Unruly air passengers risk hefty fines and possible bans


The rapid growth in the number of unruly, disruptive or downright violent passengers on planes was – and still is – a hot topic in the airline industry.

And the number of incidents was – and still is – alarming. Cell Phone Videos taken by other passengers show fights on board, flight attendants being assaulted, fellow passengers being punched, offenders often glued to their seats, and law enforcement escorting passengers off planes. Many incidents result in the hijacking of flights.

In 2021, the number of such incidents was north of 6,000. In 2022, while the numbers have fallen, they are still more than 10 times higher than in decades past. In 1995, 146 unruly air passengers were reported. So far in 2022, the The Federal Aviation Administration received 1,944 reports.

It is against federal law to “assault, threaten, intimidate or interfere with a crew member in the performance of their duties on board an operated aircraft,” according to federal regulations.

Historically, the FAA has closed these cases with enforcement action; civil penalties; administrative measures, which are warnings; a compliance action, which is advice, or no action if there is insufficient evidence of a regulatory violation or a violation of federal law. However, under the FAA’s current zero-tolerance policy for unruly passengers, implemented in 2021, the agency has not issued warnings or advisory orders.

As part of its latest reauthorization in 2018, the FAA can offer up to $37,000 per violation for unruly passenger cases. Previously, the maximum civil penalty per violation was $25,000. One incident may result in multiple violations.

To date in 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration has received nearly 2,000 reports of unruly passengers.

CBS News

Of these reports, 673 were investigated by the authorities and 460 cases of enforcement action were initiated. But despite clear violations of the law by passengers, official and industry sources told CBS News that very few passengers have been arrested, and even fewer have been fined or jailed.

The key word here is “provide”. In almost all cases, sources said, the total amount of fines proposed by the FAA is never paid in full, and in many cases no fine is paid.

There are exceptions, of course.

A New York woman has been sentenced to four months in prison after her use of racial slurs sparked an argument on a flight to Los Angeles, prompting the pilot to divert the plane to Phoenix.

Kelly Pichardo, 32, of Bronx, New York, was sentenced to four months in prison and 36 months of supervised release after pleading guilty to interference with flight crew members. She was ordered to pay $9,123 in restitution to American Airlines.

In another case, Vyvianna M. Quinonez, 29, of Sacramento, will have to pay nearly $26,000 in restitution and a $7,500 fine for an attack on board, in which she punched a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, bloodying his face and chipping three of his teeth. Quinonez was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison.

And in April, the FAA proposed his biggest fine yet: $81,950 from a passenger who had to be glued to her seat on an American Airlines flight to Charlotte in July 2021. Her case is still pending.

In 2021 and 2022, a number of airlines, including United and Delta, announced that unruly passengers would be banned from their flights because of their behavior. The announcements implied that the bans would be for life.

But in April, once the federal mask mandate was lifted, those carriers were quietly inviting those passengers back to friendly skies.

Delta said in April that it would be restoration of flight privileges for customers who have demonstrated “an understanding of their expected behavior when flying with us.” This new forgiveness policy is applied to passengers who have been banned for “mask failure”. Delta’s announcement came a day after United made a similar one. American and Alaska Airlines have both followed suit.

So much for the permanent no-fly list, although passengers who behaved violently are still on those airline lists – which are different from the federal terrorism no-fly list.

And how many people are still on those lists and do airlines share names with each other? Nobody knows.


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