WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) “zero-tolerance policy” for addressing unruly passengers will become permanent even after a court ended transportation mask requirements, the agency said on Wednesday.
Then-FAA Administrator Steve Dickson first imposed the policy in January 2021 and later said it would remain as long as an order was in place requiring masks onboard airplanes. A federal judge on Monday struck the down the 14-month-old transportation mask policy.
“Behaving dangerously on a plane will cost you; that’s a promise,” said Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen. “Keeping our zero-tolerance policy will help us continue making progress to prevent and punish this behavior.”
Under the policy, the FAA issues fines to passengers for unruly behavior instead of warning letters or counseling.
Since January 2021, the FAA has proposed fines of about $7 million for disruptive passengers.
Two new fines issued earlier this month were the highest yet, including an $81,950 fine for an American Airlines passenger on a July flight. It alleged the passenger pushed a “flight attendant aside and tried to open the cabin door.”
The FAA added “two flight attendants tried to restrain the passenger, but she repeatedly hit one of the flight attendants on the head. After the passenger was restrained in flex cuffs, she spit at, headbutted, bit and tried to kick the crew and other passengers.”
The agency also proposed a $77,272-fine for a Delta passenger on a July flight, alleging the passenger “attempted to hug and kiss the passenger seated next to her; walked to the front of the aircraft to try to exit during flight; refused to return to her seat; and bit another passenger multiple times.”
The FAA imposed its zero-tolerance mandate when unruly passenger incidents escalated around the time of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The FAA said since January 2021, there have been a record 7,200 unruly passenger incidents reported – and 70% involved the enforcement of masking rules.
The FAA said it has referred 80 unruly airplane passengers to the FBI for potential criminal prosecution.
(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul and Aurora Ellis)