ByKelly Yamanouchi, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday announcedcivil penalties in eight incidentsthis year involving unruly passengersand alcohol.
The FAA says it has received nearly 300 reports of passenger disturbances due to alcohol and intoxication so far in 2021.
Disturbances on planes are rare. But the number spiked when the FAA instituted a“zero tolerance” policy for unruly behavior on planesand the federal government began requiring masks on planes in January 2021. Incidents have decreased since earlier this year.
The FAA doesn’t have the authority to criminally prosecute people, but refers some cases to the U.S. Department of Justice to be considered for federal criminal prosecution. Earlier this month, the FAA and DOJ said37 passengers havebeen referred for federal charges this year.
Among the incidents, a Southwest Airlines passenger was fined $40,823 for bringing alcohol on board and drinking it even after being told it wasn’t allowed, the FAA said. The passenger, who was flying from San Jose, Calif., to San Diego, then allegedly sexually assaulted a flight attendant and smoked marijuana in the lavatory, the agency said. Police booked the passenger with resisting arrest and public intoxication.
The FAA has raised concerns about airport concessionaires selling “to-go” cups of alcohol. At Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, concessionaires’ liquor licenses do not allow customers to carry an alcoholic drink out of the restaurant.
In another incident, a Delta Air Lines flight from Fort Myers, Fla. to Detroitwas divertedto Atlanta after a passenger “repeatedly took off his facemask” after being told by crews to keep it on, the FAA said. The passenger then allegedly swore at other passengers and accused them of stealing from him. According to the FAA, he yelled, “This is America. This is free speech.”
The flight arrived 45 minutes late in Detroit because of the diversion. The FAA is levying a $24,000 fine against the passenger.
ADeltaflight to Atlanta from San Francisco was diverted to Las Vegas in another incident involving alcohol. A passenger was told she wasn’t allowed to drink the mini bottles of alcohol she had brought on the plane. But, instead of stopping, the woman downed the bottle, the FAA said. She “pulled her mask down, came very close to the flight attendant’s face, demanded the flight attendant’s name and employee number, and began filming the flight attendant,” the FAA alleges. The FAA fined the passenger $16,000.
In other disturbances, passengers are accused of threatening flight attendants and yelling profanities at them.
Passengers penalized by the FAA can:
- Pay the full penalty
- Dispute the accusation, or whether it warrants the penalty.
- Ask to meet with the FAA to discuss the case
- Request a hearing with an administrative law judge, appeal the judge’s decision to the FAA administrator, and appeal the administrator’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
- Provide documentation showing he or she is financially unable to pay the fine.
If a passenger does not pay a fine, the FAA will refer the case to the U.S. Department of Treasury for collection.