An anti-masker who punched a Delta Air Lines flight attendant in the face has been slapped with a $27,500 fine by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who accused the passenger of crew member interference and assault. The proposed civil penalty is separate from possible criminal sanctions that carry a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.
The passenger was caught on video by fellow passengers striking out at the flight attendant on Delta Air Lines flight DL1997 from Miami to Atlanta on October 19 last year. The passenger had become embroiled in a row with the crew after her seatmate and travel companion was asked to put on his face mask.
Instead, the other passenger ignored crew member instructions which included asking him to fasten his seatbelt and return his tray table to the stowed position in preparation for take-off. The flight returned to the gate to offload the passengers but they both refused to deplane despite repeated requests from flight attendants.
“The passenger accompanying the non-compliant traveler ignored the flight attendant’s instructions, began yelling expletives at the flight attendant and other passengers, and struck the flight attendant under her left eye,” a statement from the FAA released on Friday explained.
“Federal law prohibits interfering with aircraft crew or physically assaulting or threatening to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft. Passengers are subject to civil penalties for such misconduct, which can threaten the safety of the flight by disrupting or distracting cabin crew from their safety duties,” the statement continued.
The proposed penalty dwarfs that of previous anti-masker fines handed down late last year by the FAA. At the time, there was no federal face mask mandate for public transport so FAA investigators could only fine passengers who had either interfered or assaulted crew members.
In one case, a passenger who refused to wear a face mask and repeatedly shouted obscenities before assaulting a flight attendant was fined $15,000. In another case, a passenger who removed his face mask and grabbed the buttock of a flight attendant was fined $7,000.
The FAA says it is now enforcing a “zero-tolerance policy” towards passengers who cause disturbances onboard flights, as well as passengers who ignore crew members instructions. The agency toughened up enforcement following alarming scenes onboard multiple planes bound for Washington DC ahead of January’s Presidential inauguration.
In this latest case, the passenger has 30 days to appeal the proposed penalty.
In a statement released by Delta at the time, the airline said: “There is nothing more important than the safety of our people and customers. That’s why two customers who did not comply with crew safety instructions were asked to deplane Flight 1997 this evening.”
“We do not tolerate violence of any kind and this situation is currently under investigation. We apologize to customers for the flight delay this caused.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.