The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is continuing its crackdown on airline passengers who refuse to comply with face mask rules, threaten and assault flight attendants and disrupt flights by breaking other federal laws. In the latest case, a jetBlue passenger who refused to wear a face mask on a December 23, 2020 flight now faces a civil penalty of $14,500.
The unnamed man allegedly brought his own alcohol onboard the flight from New York JFK to the Dominican Republic and started drinking it in violation of federal rules and despite repeated requests from flight attendants to stop doing so.
As a result of the man’s behavior, the Captain decided to declare an emergency and return to JFK where the plane landed 4,000 pounds overweight due to the amount of fuel on board.
“The passenger crowded the traveler sitting next to him, spoke loudly, and refused to wear his face mask,” the FAA alleged in a statement released on Friday afternoon. “Flight attendants moved the other passenger to a different seat after they complained about the man’s behavior,” the statement continued.
“A flight attendant warned the man that jetBlue’s policies required him to wear a face mask, and twice warned him that FAA regulations prohibit passengers from drinking alcohol they bring on board an aircraft. Despite these warnings, the passenger continued to remove his face mask and drink his own alcohol.”
Despite being issued with a warning card to ‘Cease Illegal and Objectionable Behavior’, the man continued to ignore flight attendant requests who in turn had to notify the Captain about the man’s behavior on two separate occasions. At that point, the Captain made the decision to divert the flight back to New York.
In January, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson announced a zero-tolerance ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy against anti-maskers and disruptive passengers following a spate of high-profile incidents onboard airplanes in the days leading up to the Presidential inauguration.
The stricter enforcement policy will be enforced through March 30, 2021, and will mean the FAA moves straight to civil penalties which carry fines of up to $35,000 for passengers who assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with airline crew members.
Lawmakers have urged the FAA to extend the zero-tolerance policy before reverting back to an old policy that saw the agency deal with disruptive passengers through counselling and other soft-touch penalties.
Under the tougher enforcement policy, an anti-masker who assaulted a Delta Air Lines flight attendant on a flight from Miami to Atlanta was recently slapped with a $27,500 civil penalty.
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.
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.