FAA proposes nearly $550K in fines against unruly passengers for alleged death threats, apparent sexual assault

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In total, the FAA levied an additional $531,545 in civil penalties on Thursday, an amount that marks the FAA’s largest single proposal of fines against any group of passengers since the start of the agency’s “zero-tolerance” policy. (Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images)

(NEXSTAR) – The Federal Aviation Administration is proposing another round of hefty fines against airline passengers for offensive and combative acts, from refusing to comply with the federal mask mandate to an apparent sexual assault.

In total, the FAA levied an additional $531,545 in civil penalties on Thursday, an amount that marks the FAA’s largest single proposal of fines against any group of passengers since the start of the agency’s “zero-tolerance” policy. The fines were levied against 34 passengers, one of whom was hit with $45,000 in proposed civil penalties alone.

That particular passenger, as described by the FAA, had forced an emergency landing of a JetBlue flight after allegedly throwing objects at other customers — including his own carry-on luggage — and lying in the aisle of the plane. He is also said to have grabbed one of the flight attendant’s ankles before “putting his head up her skirt.” The flight crew eventually restrained the passenger with flex cuffs.

Another unruly JetBlue passenger was fined $42,000 for allegedly refusing to wear a mask and threatening physical harm against other passengers. At points during the flight, the FAA says the passenger allegedly made “non-consensual physical contact” with another traveler, made “stabbing gestures” toward others, and appeared to be snorting cocaine from a bag. The flight’s crew placed the “increasingly agitated” passenger in flex cuffs and armed themselves with ice mallets in self-defense.

Other egregious examples detailed by the FAA include passengers who assaulted flight attendants, punched other customers, screamed obscenities at the flight crew, refused to stop drinking alcohol and made death threats, including one who told the attendants he was picturing them in “body bags” after they told his son to stop vaping on the plane.

The offenses outlined in the FAA’s latest news release took place between Dec. 2020 and May 2021. Since the beginning of the year, however, the agency has confirmed approximately 3,889 reports of unruly passengers from airlines, more than a third of which concern travelers refusing to abide by federal mask mandates.

The FAA has so far fined passengers over $1,000,000, collectively, since enacting its zero-tolerance policy in January. At the time, the FAA described a “disturbing increase” in disruptive behavior, specifically noting a “proliferation” of such conduct “following the January 6, 2021 violence at the U.S. Capitol,” according to an order signed by FAA Chief Steve Dickson.

The FAA, meanwhile, notes that it does not have the authority to prosecute these criminal acts, but recently requested that airports work with local law enforcement to hold passengers accountable for their actions.

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