Reports of Disorderly Airline Passengers Are at an All-Time High

And so, too, are the corresponding federal fines with which they're being hit

Reports of Disorderly Airline Passengers Are at an All-Time High
Suhyeon Choi/Unsplash

With the uptick in travel bookings over the course of the past few months, the airline industry is reportedly experiencing an unprecedented amount of turbulence, although not of the atmospheric variety.

According to a new report by The New York Times, the Federal Aviation Administration has received roughly 1,300 complaints since February pertaining to “unruly passengers” — as many as they’ve pursued action against in the entirety of the last decade.

The disputes are reportedly, and unsurprisingly, stemming predominately from mask requirements and other airline-enforced safety parameters. One New York-bound JetBlue passenger, according to the Times, threw an empty liquor bottle across the cabin, began shouting profanities and ultimately wound up physically assaulting two crew members. Her motive? Being asked to put on a mask. The FAA suggested a fine of $32,750 for her transgressions.

It is for similar behavior that the “Zero Tolerance for Disruptive Passengers” policy was installed early this year following an increase in disturbances on flights to and from Washington, DC, during the first two weeks of January. The policy, which aims to prohibit passenger misconduct, carries up to $35,000 in fines and possible jail time for offenders. To date, roughly 260 passengers have been found in violation, four of whom are now facing close to $75,000 in said fines.

“We will not tolerate interfering with a flight crew and the performance of their safety duties. Period,” FAA administrator Stephen Dickson tweeted early last week.

In an op-ed for NBC, Association of Flight Attendants president Sarah Nelson likened wearing face masks to putting on an oxygen mask or wearing a seatbelt. “Flight attendants are aviation’s first responders and last line of defense. We’re thoroughly and carefully trained on safety procedures — and we believe the experts who teach us how the systems of an airplane work and what to do in an emergency,” Nelson wrote.

“Flight attendants would never tell you that ‘whether you put on the oxygen mask is a matter of personal choice,’” she continued. “We understand that clear air turbulence really can throw you against the ceiling without warning, so we don’t say, ‘Some people believe seatbelts won’t keep you safe, so it’s up to you to decide whether to wear one.’”

This should not be a necessary conversation, let alone a contentious one, more than a year into this pandemic. The mask requirement on flights — or anywhere, for that matter — is hardly new, and by now those who choose to willfully disobey it should not be surprised when private companies refuse them service or seek punitive damages. After a year of virtually no travel, I’ll gladly wear a hazmat suit at a flight attendant’s request if it means being able to venture further than three hours from where I live again. Grow up.


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