The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) levied yet another slew of civil penalties totalling more than $225,000 against unruly passengers on Wednesday, including fines for three Southwest Airlines customers who between them punched, kicked, elbowed and spat at flight attendants.
In one case, pilots were forced to put the flight deck into lockdown and call law enforcement to meet the plane because a flight attendant had made an innocuous request for a passenger to comply with the federal face mask mandate.
The FAA alleges that the passenger on the March 28 flight from New Orleans to Baltimore deliberately elbowed and kicked the flight attendant as he passed through the cabin collecting trash because he had dared to ask her to wear a face mask.
In another case, yet another Southwest flight attendant required medical attention after a passenger started punching out because they were trying to keep him seated as the aircraft touched down for landing.
The passenger had already tried to enter the flight deck during the New York City to Chicago flight on May 5 but flight attendants determined he wasn’t aggressive but required “additional observation”.
“After he returned to his seat, he incorrectly thought the aircraft was already at the gate and attempted to remove his luggage from the overhead bin. Flight attendants coaxed him to the back of the aircraft and sat him on the floor to ensure he remained seated during landing,” the FAA said in a statement.
Flight attendants held him down to prevent him from injuring himself but the passenger allegedly lashed out and punched one of the flight attendants. The FAA determined the man should pay a $26,787 fine for hitting the flight attendant.
And in another case, a Southwest flight attendant allegedly threw a strop because a flight attendant had asked her to stow her hand luggage in an overhead locker. When she refused and was told she was being removed from the flight, the passenger allegedly clung onto her seat while shouting profanities at flight attendants.
The passenger was eventually removed but she broke free from the grip of her travel companion who was leading her off the plane and spat on the flight attendant.
The FAA slapped the passenger with a $25,000 fine for her behavior on the February 3 flight from Boston to Chicago.
These three examples provide more color to complaints made by the Southwest flight attendants union which has “sounded the alarm” about rising air rage cases for months. The TWU Local 556 union warns air rage incidents are “skyrocketing” but the union fears flight attendants aren’t always believed by airline managers.
“Give Flight Attendants the benefit of the doubt when investigating air rage incidents,” the union said in an open letter to Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly earlier this year”.
“Stand by us, trust our word, and collaborate with other carriers to show collective force,” the letter continued. “Help us protect ourselves with paid time off to attend the TSA Crew Member self-defense training so we may be assets to ourselves and others in these difficult times”.
The incident that really drew the ire of the union and shone the spotlight on flight attendant assaults was a May 23 flight from Sacramento to San Diego that resulted in a flight attendant sustaining serious damage to two teeth.
Vyvianna Quinonez, 29, has been charged with assault causing serious bodily injury and interfering with a flight crew member for which she faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.
The majority of unruly passengers, however, still don’t face criminal prosecution but the FAA recently referred 37 of the “most egregious” unruly passenger cases to the FBI for further investigation and possible prosecution.
On Wednesday, the FAA said it had now received more than 100 incident reports which involved physical assault since the start of 2021.
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.