FAA extends zero-tolerance policy on unruly passengers, proposes stiff fines for JetBlue passengers

The Federal Aviation Administration announced in January that it was done issuing warnings to unruly airline passengers who refuse to wear masks or act out in other ways and would start giving them stiff fines.

The agency continues to demonstrate that was no idle threat. The policy was set to expire at the end of March but has been extended for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I have decided to extend the FAA’s unruly-passenger zero-tolerance policy as we continue to do everything we can to confront the pandemic," FAA administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement. "The policy directs our safety inspectors and attorneys to take strong enforcement action against any passenger who disrupts or threatens the safety of a flight, with penalties ranging from fines to jail time. The number of cases we’re seeing is still far too high, and it tells us urgent action continues to be required."

 No more warnings: Federal Aviation Administration adopts stricter unruly flyer policy 

On Wednesday the FAA announced it is proposing a $20,000 fine for a JetBlue passenger on a Dec. 27 flight from Boston to Puerto Rico who repeatedly refused to keep her mask on or remain seated. 

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"The passenger shoved a flight attendant multiple times in her chest/shoulder area, shouted obscenities at the flight attendant, and threatened to have her fired," the FAA statement said. "As a result of the passenger’s behavior, the captain diverted the flight back to Boston."

The agency also proposed a $12,000 fine for another JetBlue passenger who flew from New York to the Dominican Republic on New Year's Eve. In addition to refusing to wear a mask, it says, he continued drinking alcohol he brought on board, which is in itself a FAA violation. 

After flight attendants gave the passenger a written warning, the FAA says he "shouted profanities at them, slammed overhead bins and became more and more uncooperative and agitated." 

"During the landing phase of flight, including when the plane was taxiing to the gate, the passenger stood up while the 'fasten seatbelt' sign was illuminated, threw his bottle of alcohol behind a seat, and went to the lavatory," the statement read. " As a result of the passenger’s behavior, the flight crew requested that law enforcement meet the aircraft at the gate."

The FAA said it does not publicly identify people against whom it charges civil penalties. The passengers in question have 30 days to respond to the FAA's letter informing them of the fines.

The Association of Flight Attendants supported the FAA's decision to extend the policy, saying it has provided some much-needed enforcement muscle.

"The FAA's zero-tolerance policy has been an important deterrent while enforcing the mask mandate onboard," the union said in a statement provided by spokesperson Taylor Garland. "FAA's recent enforcement actions have made clear to passengers that there are swift and severe consequences for interfering with crew members’ efforts to keep everyone safe.  Administrator Dickson’s strong stand in January for zero tolerance backed us up and this is no time to let down our guard now. Flight attendants applaud the FAA for keeping this policy in place.”