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Fines For Disruptive Plane Passengers, Often Over Masks, Have Reached $1 Million

Mask-wearing travelers head through Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va., in May. More than 70% of reports to the FAA of unruly passengers this year were related to people failing to comply with mask mandates and causing a disruption as a result.
Mask-wearing travelers head through Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va., in May. More than 70% of reports to the FAA of unruly passengers this year were related to people failing to comply with mask mandates and causing a disruption as a result.

Officials have already fined unruly airline passengers upward of $1 million in civil penalties this year, and many of those citations are related to aggressive refusal to wear masks as required by federal rules.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced in a news release Thursday that since the beginning of the year, the agency has received around 3,889 reports of passengers behaving badly, and around 2,867 — more than 70% — were related to individuals failing to comply with mask mandates and causing a disruption as a result.

During a flight from New York to California in May, an unnamed male passenger not only refused to wear a mask but then also allegedly started harassing other passengers: He threw a playing card at one person and began making "stabbing gestures" at others aboard the aircraft, according to the report. He then snorted what looked to be cocaine out of a plastic bag and continued to be unruly, prompting the crew members to arm themselves with mallets used for crushing ice and zip ties in the event they had to restrain him.

Many of the 34 incidents described by the FAA are similar. In April, a woman flying from Massachusetts to Florida refused to wear a mask and was met by police at the gate after she shouted curses at the crew and punched another passenger in the face. A man flying to Kentucky from Florida the same month also refused to wear a mask and then urinated on the floor of the plane bathroom, letting urine leak into the kitchen area.

The FAA has a zero tolerance policy in regard to unruly behavior from customers. Fines for airline passenger misconduct cited in this week's report range from $7,500 to $45,000.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began requiring face masks on all forms of public transport in January, and that mandate still includes indoor areas such as the interiors of planes and buses; outdoor transportation areas are, however, exempt.

Despite the well-posted rules, as airlines began to see an influx of passengers this year as compared with 2020, they also saw a jump in the number of disruptive incidents, according to an FAA letter issued to airlines this month.

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