Airline staff have had their hands full with a large number of “unruly” passengers this past year. Some swear. Some people throw punches. At least one is accused of throwing trash and stealing another passenger’s cookies. 

No matter what they did to earn the “unruly passenger” label, they all face heavy fines. The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday announced that it has proposed an additional $201,287 in civil penalties against 10 passengers for alleged physical assaults.

The number of cases of unruly passengers rose after the U.S. imposed a mask requirement on aircrafts and at airports starting February 1. This mandate will remain in effect until Jan. 18 at the earliest.  

The FAA reported 5,114 incidents involving passengers this year. 73% of these were related to masks. More than 100 reports involved physical assaults, according to a Wednesday news release.

► Unruly passengers:American Airlines banning passenger from flight after an attendant is injured.

► Unruly passengers fined:Under a mask mandate, FAA fined passengers who were deemed unruly this year with more than $1M

While the rate of unruly passenger incidents has dropped about 50% since record-highs in early 2021, when the FAA first introduced its “Zero Tolerance” policy against unruly passengers, the agency said the number of incidents “remains too high.”

While the FAA does not have the authority to prosecute, it can impose fines. Unruly passenger cases can be subject to the FAA’s $37,000 fine per violation. Multiple violations can also be imposed per incident.

The proposed penalties totaling more than $200,000 announced Wednesday include:

  • An accusation of refusing to buckle her seatbelt and causing a $32,000 penalty was imposed on a passenger. The FAA says the woman punched and screamed at her husband and son repeatedly, threw trash at a flight attendant and took cookies from a nearby passenger during a Horizon Air flight from Austin, Texas to San Francisco on May 18.
  • A $20,000 fine against a traveler who allegedly refused to return to his seat while the “fastened seatbelt” sign was on and threatened a flight attendant by saying he was going to “(expletive) up his (expletive).” The passenger allegedly also made physical contact with a flight attendant and yelled profanities in the aisle while the plane was taxiing from its gate. The Delta Air Lines plane returned to the gate, where the man was removed by law enforcement officers.
  • A $26,787 fine against a Southwest Airlines passenger who allegedly left his seat and attempted to enter the cockpit during the plane’s final descent and later punched one of the flight attendants on a flight from New York to Chicago on May 5. According to the FAA the flight attendant needed medical attention and law enforcement met him at the gate. 
  • Two-and-a half million dollars fine for a Southwest Airlines passenger, who refused to put her bag in the overhead bin while on flight from Boston on February 3rd to Chicago. She allegedly “held onto the armrest, shouted loudly and aggressively” after being told she could not continue with the flight and used derogatory language and obscene gestures towards a crew member.  After being told she could not continue with the flight, she “held onto the armrest and shouted loudly and aggressively” at a crew member. She also used derogatory language towards a crew member as she was leaving. At the airport, she was met by officers. 
  • American Airlines fined $24,000 to a passenger who boarded a Jan. 21 flight from Tampa to Miami. The passenger allegedly refused to wear a facemask while boarding and was disruptive when the aircraft remained at the gate due to a “minor technical issue.” Several passengers asked for a new seat assignment to avoid the traveler and her companions, and the captain eventually requested her removal. The passenger allegedly shoved a flight attendant in the chest on her way off the plane. 
  • An accusation of elbowing and kicking a flight attendant on board a Southwest flight between New Orleans and Baltimore, March 28, brought about a $24,000 fine. 
  • Two-and-a half million dollars was imposed on the victim for allegedly refusing to wear a mask, threatening and cursing at crew members, and pushing one other crew member aboard a Delta Air Lines flight on Dec. 27, from Detroit to Salt Lake City. 
  • Two-and-a half million dollars fine for a passenger aboard an American Airlines flight on March 11. She allegedly shouted at the flight attendants when her seat did not recline. According to the FAA, she did eventually agree to change seats with another passenger on the March 11 flight between Dallas-Fort Worth and Aspen, Colorado. However, she continued verbally abusing flight attendants, striking one flight attendant in the arm. According to reports, the passenger refused to use a mask on her face. The law enforcement officers met her at the gate.
  • A $17,500 fine against a JetBlue passenger who allegedly pushed and yelled at a crew member, telling him to “get his fat (expletive)” out of his face. Pilot diverted Nov. 7, 2020 flight from JetBlue to Richmond, Virginia. Police met with the passenger at the gate.  
  • A $9,000 fine against a passenger who “stomped and/or kicked” the feet of the passenger behind him on March 20 as their American Airlines flight from Cancun descended into Indianapolis. 

Follow Bailey Schulz, USA TODAY’s reporter on Twitter @bailey_schulz 



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