Unfriendly skies: 2,500 unruly U.S. airline passengers reported in 2021

Passengers walk along terminal B of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia
Passengers walk along terminal B of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

May 24, 2021

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Airlines have filed about 2,500 unruly-passenger reports with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration this year, including 1,900 reports of passengers not wearing required face masks, the agency said on Monday.

The jump in cases in midst of the coronavirus pandemic prompted FAA Administrator Steve Dickson in March to indefinitely extend a “zero tolerance policy” on unruly air passengers imposed in January.

The FAA said on Monday it had proposed new civil penalties ranging from $9,000 to $15,000 against five airline passengers for disruptive and, in some cases, assaultive behavior.

The FAA has identified potential violations in 395 cases and initiated enforcement action in 30 cases.

In one case, the FAA proposed a $10,500 fine against a JetBlue passenger who failed to wear a mask on a March 17 Orlando, Florida, flight to New York. He was eventually removed from the flight but delayed its departure by 28 minutes.

The FAA proposed a $9,000 fine for a Southwest passenger on a Feb. 20 flight who refused to wear a mask. A flight attendant “gave the passenger a mask, and he threw it on the floor, saying he would not wear it,” the FAA said, adding that the captain arranged for police to meet the passenger on arrival in Houston.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on April 30 extended a federal face mask mandate on airplanes and in airports through Sept. 13.

With more Americans vaccinated, U.S. airplanes are becoming increasingly crowded. TSA screened 1.86 million passengers on Sunday, the highest daily total since March of last year.

Dickson will hold an online aviation town hall on Wednesday to talk about masks and other travel requirements.

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said on Monday, “the freedom of flight depends on all of us following the rules and treating others with respect. … The consequences are steep if you do not and the FAA isn’t playing around on this.”

Since 2020, Delta Air Lines has banned more than 1,200 passengers from future flights for failing to wear masks but not all of those have been referred to the FAA. Delta said on Monday, “the vast majority of our customers understand the mask requirement and comply with it.”

Dickson signed the zero tolerance order after supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump were disruptive on some flights around the time of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack.

(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)