The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says a ‘first strike and you’re out’ policy against unruly and disruptive passengers that was originally only meant to be in force for a few months has been made permanent. Under the zero-tolerance policy, the agency can slap unruly passengers with civil penalties of up to $37,000 per violation. Since its introduction in early 2021, more than $2 million in fines have been issued.
The policy was introduced in January 2021 in the days following the U.S. Capitol insurrection after several high-profile incidents on domestic flights were linked to violent protestors who took part in the attack.
The FAA had traditionally dealt with unruly passenger incidents by issuing warning letters or offering counselling but the shift in policy saw soft-touch measures abandoned in favor of moving straight to hefty civil penalties to stem a flood of disruptive behavior.
“Behaving dangerously on a plane will cost you; that’s a promise,” commented Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen as he confirmed the zero-tolerance approach was here to stay. “Unsafe behavior simply does not fly and keeping our Zero Tolerance policy will help us continue making progress to prevent and punish this behavior,” Nolen continued.
The policy was first introduced as a temporary measure but was given an open-ended extension in March 2021 as the number of unruly passenger incidents seemingly exploded. Violent incidents have dwindled in recent weeks and the policy was expected to be dropped once the federal face mask mandate came to an end.
Nearly 65 percent of all unruly passenger incidents reported to the FAA are connected to face mask policies.
The heftiest fine so far issued by the FAA under the zero-tolerance policy was for $81,950 for an American Airlines passenger who spat at, head-butted and kicked out at flight attendants on an American Airlines flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Charlotte last July. The incident made headlines after photos of the passenger gagged and duct-taped to a seat went viral.
The proposed fine can exceed $37,000 because the FAA has the power to issue a separate fine for multiple violations per incident.
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.