The FAA Cracks Down: Masks, Alcohol & Disruptive Passengers

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There can be little doubt that the FAA is no longer going to tolerate the disruptions caused by drunken and unruly passengers.  Yesterday, the FAA announced large civil penalties against another four travelers for misconduct that occurred between December 22, 2020 and February 7, 2021.

In the first case, the FAA is seeking a $9,000 fine against a passenger on a December 22, 2020 Delta Air Lines flight from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  According to the press release, the passenger got out of her seat during takeoff, began walking up and down the aisle, and repeatedly said she wanted to get off the aircraft. Despite multiple flight attendants instructing her to return to her seat and fasten her seatbelt, she refused to comply. As a result, the flight had to return to Minneapolis.

The second case arose out of a January 26, 2021 Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago, Illinois to Sacramento, California. It is alleged that the passenger refused to wear his facemask over his nose and mouth while boarding and before takeoff.  The passenger was instructed to wear his mask properly a second time, after which “he became combative and used offensive language.”  A supervisor subsequently had to come on the plane and ask the passenger to disembark.  “As the passenger walked with his luggage toward the exit door, he called each of the two flight attendants ‘pathetic,’ and hit one of the flight attendants with his bags.”  The FAA has assessed a $16,500 civil penalty based on this alleged assault.

The third fine, in an amount of $9,000, also arose out of a mask related incident.  According to the FAA, a passenger on a January 30, 2021 Alaska Airlines flight from Bozeman, Montana to Seattle, Washington refused to comply with the airline’s facemask policy while boarding the plane.  The flight attendants then provided him with a facemask.  Despite this, the passenger was not wearing a mask when the plane left the gate.  The passenger was once again reminded of the airline’s policy and asked repeatedly to put the mask on as the plane taxied.  He refused to do so.  As a result, the aircraft had to return to the gate and the passenger was removed from the plane.

The final, and most serious, incident involved a February 7, 2021 jetBlue flight from the Dominican Republic to New York.  According to the FAA:

the passenger failed to comply with multiple flight attendant instructions to wear a facemask; threw an empty alcohol bottle into the air, almost hitting another passenger; threw food into the air; shouted obscenities at crew members; grabbed a flight attendant’s arm, causing her pain; struck the arm of another flight attendant twice and scratched his hand; and drank alcohol that had not been served to her by the cabin crew. As a result of the passenger’s actions, the flight returned to the Dominican Republic.

The FAA is seeking a $32,750 fine for this incident.

When examining all of the enforcement actions the FAA has brought against passengers this year, one fact stands out.  The most serious incidents all involve drunken passengers.  None of these passengers, however, were in that state due to alcohol served to them by the airline.  Either the passengers arrived on the aircraft already drunk or brought their own alcohol with them.  Hopefully, this will not be a trend that continues.  Otherwise, the FAA may be forced to take a hard look at alcohol sales at airport terminals.

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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