As airlines lift mask mandates, FAA to continue 'zero tolerance' policy for unruly passengers

WASHINGTON -- Although most airlines lifted mask mandates, the Federal Aviation Administration's zero-tolerance policy against unruly passengers is here to stay.

Under the policy, the FAA issues fines to passengers for unruly behavior instead of warning letters or counseling. The agency said the program has helped reduce the incident rate by more than 60 percent.

Airlines have reported a high number of incidents since early 2021 -- more than 1,000 this year alone -- with most of them involving passengers who refuse to wear face masks. As of Feb. 16, 2022, the FAA referred 80 unruly passenger cases to the FBI for criminal review.

Roughly $2 million in proposed penalties have been announced since Jan. 1, including a civil penalty of $81,950 against a passenger who struck a flight attendant on the head, tried to open a cabin door and headbutted, spit at and tried to kick crew members and passengers even after she was placed in flexible handcuffs last July.

The FAA is also seeking a $77,272 fine against a woman who tried to open a cabin door during a flight and bit another passenger repeatedly before she was restrained in July.

"Air rage has unfortunately become all too common. I've lost count of the times I've been insulted or threatened on a flight simply for doing my job," Teddy Andrews, an American Airlines flight attendant, said during testimony before Congress in September. "On this flight, my colleague on the verge of tears came to the galley after a passenger refused to wear a mask and had been giving her a hard time. He said: 'N-word,' I don't have to listen to a damn thing you say, this is a free country.'"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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