Screaming, abuse and secret booze: FAA fines travellers thousands for misbehaviour on planes

The misconduct ranges from drunkenness to sexual assault

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Tuesday 23 November 2021 23:54
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A Delta passenger who appeared drunk and allegedly refused to wear a mask and screamed “This is America. This is free speech,” at passengers and staff alike.

A Jet Blue traveller bound for Ecuador who allegedly drank his own bottles of alcohol, urinated on the lavatory floor, and verbally abused the flight crew, causing his plane to get diverted.

A Delta flyer who allegedly broke air travel rules and drank her own mini bottles of alcohol, defiantly downing one in the face of a crew member before pulling down her mask and beginning to film the incident, causing the plane to be rerouted to Las Vegas.

In one nightmarish case, a Southwest Airlines passenger allegedly got drunk on a private alcohol supply, sexually assaulted the flight attendant who had asked him to stop, then smoked marijuana in the plane’s bathroom.

These are just some of the horror stories of airline passengers gone wild in 2020 and 2021, after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a list of wrongdoers it has fined for more than $160,000 in recent months, part of its new “Zero Tolerance” policy for travellers now that airline travel has rebounded from its pandemic lows.

According to FAA data analysed by The Daily Beast, there have been nearly 300 complaints in 2021 alone for “passenger disturbances due to alcohol and intoxication. The FAA has launched nearly 1,000 passenger misconduct investigations this year as of 16 November, a whopping 441 per cent increase over 2020. Of the more than 5,200 alleged unruly passengers who have been reported to officials this year, nearly three quarters have been involved in mask-related incidents. All told, the agency has fined travelers more than $1m for misbehaviour this year.

“The rate of unruly passenger incidents on commercial flights has dropped sharply since the FAA launched its Zero Tolerance campaign but the rate remains too high,” the agency said on Tuesday in a statement.

The new campaign, adopted this August, was put in place to counter a seeming explosion in misconduct on flights as travellers returned to air travel.

“During the last year, the aviation system has faced many challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” FAA administrator Stephen Dickson wrote in a letter to travel officials. “We will continue to see new challenges that require the entire industry to work together as the burgeoning recovery takes off. As the number of passengers traveling has increased, so has the number of unruly and unsafe behavior incidents on planes and in airports.”

While the travel agency has no criminal enforcement power of its own, it can refer cases to federal law enforcement agencies.

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