One passenger is being hit with a potential $9,000 penalty for refusing to wear his face mask the correct way on a Southwest Airlines flight. The passenger boarded the Houston-bound plane from Oakland, Calif. on Feb. 20, and was asked to adjust his mask so it covered his nose by a flight attendant, the FAA reports. He was offered a new mask, but decided to throw it on the floor and refused to comply more than once. Verbal warnings were reportedly issued to no avail. The passenger was reported to authorities and was met by law enforcement when the plane touched down in Texas.
Similarly, a JetBlue passenger is facing a $10,500 penalty for getting "combative" when he was asked to wear his face mask over his mouth and nose. The New York City-bound flight’s departure was delayed by 28 minutes in an Orlando airport on March 17 due to the passenger’s refusal to comply. The passenger allegedly used profanity toward flight attendants and refused to exit the plane. The FAA claims the passenger continued to be "combative and irate" toward law enforcement.
Meanwhile, the FAA has proposed the maximum civil penalty of $15,000 for three unruly passengers –two of which were on JetBlue flights between January and February.
The first occurred on Jan. 10, which was set to depart from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. to Los Angeles. The disruptive passenger on this plane allegedly drank alcohol he brought onto the flight two times despite being told it was a prohibited activity by the flight’s attendants. He also talked on a cell phone mid-flight and yelled at a flight attendant who warned him that it was also prohibited, according to the FAA. The passenger was reported to the pilots.
The second JetBlue passenger to be on the receiving end of a $15,000 penalty was also Los Angeles-bound from Miami. The passenger boarded her flight on Feb. 22 and was ticketed for a main cabin seat. A first-class passenger provided the woman food, champagne and a headset that were meant for first-class ticketholders only. The FAA claims a flight attendant confiscated the items and proceeded to return it to the first-class section, but was followed by main cabin passenger. She allegedly "yelled obscenities at the flight attendant" and "assaulted the flight attendant by hitting him with her body and almost pushing him into the lavatory," according to the FAA. The plane was diverted to Austin, Texas and the passenger was removed from the flight.
The third passenger to get hit with a $15,000 penalty was on an Alaska Airlines flight in Jan. 7. The local flight was preparing to leave from Washington-Dulles International Airport to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, but the FAA says a passenger "pushed and/or shoved a flight attendant" when the flight’s crew began to check the aisles for face mask compliance.
Each passenger described in the FAA’s news release is being given 30 days to respond to the issued proposals.
Civil penalties are issued for passenger misconduct that threatens the safety of the flight, the agency explained. In the case of the five passengers, each did something that disrupted or distracted cabin crew from their safety duties. Criminal fines or imprisonment can be issued to any person who assaults or intimidates flight staff.
Since January, the FAA has been enforcing a "zero-tolerance policy" for unruly passengers who cause disturbances on flights or refuse to follow flight crew instructions that align with FAA regulations. Face mask mandates were highlighted in the policy and are still required on flights for all passengers despite COVID-19 vaccination efforts, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.