Three Quarters of Unruly Passenger Complaints Stem from Mask Mandate Violations: FAA

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
July 7, 2021 Updated: July 7, 2021

Around 75 percent of the 3,271 unruly passenger reports received by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since the beginning of the year stemmed from people refusing to comply with federal mask mandates, according to the agency.

The FAA said in a July 6 statement that the agency has, so far this year, moved forward with 540 cases that showed “potential violations” and initiated enforcement action in 83 of those, while proposing more than $682,000 in fines as part of its so-called “Zero Tolerance” policy targeting unruly behavior.

The agency singled out several incidents in the statement, noting it has levied $119,000 in civil penalties against nine passengers in cases that include refusal to wear facemasks, threatening fellow travelers, assaulting flight crew, and punching a woman holding an infant.

In one case, a male passenger on a Dec. 27, 2020, Frontier Airlines flight from Tennessee to Florida was fined $21,500 for allegedly drinking alcohol brought onboard the plane, refusing to wear a facemask, and striking a passenger sitting next to him in the head.

Another case involved a fine of $18,500 levied against a female passenger on a Feb. 19, 2021, Republic Airlines flight from Indiana to Pennsylvania. The woman allegedly refused to wear a facemask, threatened a fellow passenger for closing their window shade, and used obscene language to argue with the captain when notified that law enforcement had been called and that she was being removed from the flight.

“As she stood up to leave the aircraft, she punched the female passenger who was seated in front of her, holding a small infant, in the back of the head,” the FAA said.

A third case involved a male passenger on a Jan. 23, 2021, Alaska Airlines flight from Washington to Alaska, who was fined $10,500 for making a 911 call and claiming the aircraft was being hijacked and calling the FBI and mentioning a bomb. The incident led to the evacuation of all passengers and the aircraft being temporarily taken out of service for bomb screening.

“Law enforcement also screened all passengers and crew as a result of the passenger’s comments. All of the passenger’s claims were false and resulted in a multi-hour delay of the flight,” the FAA said.

The FAA later retweeted a media report on the cases, warning passengers they could be fined up to $35,000 for violating its “Zero Tolerance” policy or end up behind bars.

“Travelers: The mask mandate remains in effect if you are on a plane or in an airport. The FAA has zero tolerance for not following crew instructions. The consequences are serious: $35K in fines or imprisonment,” the agency said.

In April, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) extended the federal mask mandate on planes through Sept. 13, ahead of the initial masking requirement’s planned expiration date of May 11.

Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'