A passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight from San Jose, California, to San Diego last April allegedly guzzled their private stash of booze on the plane, sexually assaulted the flight attendant who told them that was prohibited, and then smoked marijuana in the lavatory as the aircraft was making its final descent.
Now, the unnamed traveler—who was arrested at the gate for public intoxication and resisting arrest—is facing a $40,823 fine levied by the Federal Aviation Administration under the “Zero Tolerance” policy the agency launched earlier this year.
The FAA on Tuesday proposed a whopping $161,823 in civil penalties against eight passengers accused of “unruly behavior involving alcohol.” In 2021 alone, the FAA said it has received nearly 300 complaints of “passenger disturbances due to alcohol and intoxication,” and FAA data shows a total of 991 investigations initiated as of Nov. 16, a staggering 441 percent increase over just 183 investigations in all of 2020. There have been more than 5,200 unruly passenger reports filed so far this year, of which 3,798 were mask-related incidents. And although this sort of bad behavior has dipped since hitting record highs in early 2021, “the rate remains too high,” the FAA said in a statement.
The FAA cannot levy criminal charges against offenders, but it can hit them with steep financial penalties. Although the agency has fined badly behaved passengers more than $1 million this year, it is unclear how much, if any, of the fines have been collected to date. In addition to the aforementioned Southwest flier, the new batch of alleged wrongdoers—none of whom have been publicly identified by the FAA—include:
- A Delta Air Lines passenger traveling from Fort Myers, Florida, to Detroit in March, who allegedly insisted on removing his face mask after the cabin crew repeatedly told him regulations required him to keep his face covered. The man “repeatedly swore at other passengers and accused them of stealing his property,” then yelled at a crewmember attempting to calm him down, “This is America. This is free speech. What don’t you understand?” The passenger, who “appeared to be intoxicated and admitted he had been drinking in the airport before the flight,” then jumped out of his seat and pointed his finger in a crewmember’s face, screaming, “You!” The flight was diverted to Atlanta for “security reasons.” The passenger is now facing a $24,000 fine.
- A JetBlue passenger flying from New York City to Guayaquil, Ecuador, allegedly “drank alcohol that the airline did not serve to him, which is against federal regulation,” according to the FAA. The man then “urinated on the lavatory floor, verbally abused the flight crew, and refused to follow crew instructions to wear a facemask.” The flight was forced to divert to Fort Lauderdale; the passenger now faces a $17,000 fine.
- A woman aboard a Delta Air Lines flight from San Francisco to Atlanta was allegedly “told on two occasions that she could not drink her own mini bottles of alcohol on the flight.” When the flight attendant confronted the passenger for the second time, she “finished the bottle in front of the flight attendant,” who again tried to explain the rules. “In response, the passenger pulled her mask down, came very close to the flight attendant’s face, demanded the flight attendant’s name and employee number, and began filming the flight attendant,” the FAA said. The flight diverted to Las Vegas, and the woman is now facing a $16,000 fine.
- An American Airlines passenger on a flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Burbank, California, also allegedly refused to wear his face mask—even when he took a nap. A flight attendant skipped him during meal service because he was asleep, but offered him a drink or a sandwich after he woke up. The passenger insisted on a refund instead, which the crewmember said they couldn’t provide. However, they did indulge his request for “an alcoholic beverage.” Still, the man remained “combative,” and after being served a second cocktail, he “threw the drink to the floor and stomped on it while the flight attendant was serving other passengers,” according to the FAA. Another passenger seated nearby tried to prevent him from being served a third time, which triggered a stream of profanities from the already-unruly passenger who “continued to not wear his mask properly for the remainder of the flight.” He is now facing a $34,250 fine.
- A passenger aboard a Southwest flight from Dallas to Fort Lauderdale allegedly locked horns with flight attendants over mask requirements. After being asked “multiple times” to wear his mask properly over his mouth and nose, the passenger began mixing his own cocktails during a stop in Nashville. A crewmember told him this was prohibited and took the drink away. But after the flight again took off for its final destination, the man “went to the lavatory, mixed his own alcohol with a soft drink, and threw the empty liquor bottle into the toilet.” When flight attendants caught him and tried to take his drink away, the man “quickly consumed it.” The man was escorted off the aircraft by law enforcement when the plane landed. He is now facing a $12,500 fine.
- A man flying United Airlines from Chicago to Windsor Locks, Connecticut, allegedly began shouting profanities at flight attendants when they informed him there were no snacks or alcoholic beverages available. The passenger “continued to yell and use profane language after a flight attendant led him to view the beverage cart to show no alcohol or snacks were available,” then “repeatedly pulled down his face mask throughout the flight,” according to the FAA. “The passenger then interfered with the flight attendant by taking photos and videos of the flight attendant.” The flight was met at the gate by law enforcement; the passenger now faces a $9,000 fine.
- A passenger aboard an Allegiant Air flight from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Punta Gorda, Florida, ordered Bloody Mary mix and ice for himself and three others during the in-flight beverage service. The man then allegedly “removed a bottle of vodka from his carry-on bag,” and against a crewmember’s warning not to drink it, the traveler passed the bottle to his companions. When the crewmember told him to hand over the bottle, the man told her to “kiss my ass and get away” before getting “loud, argumentative and rude. When a crewmember handed him a notice warning that his behavior violated FAA regulations, he crumpled it up, threw it, called the crewmember a vulgar name and flipped her off as she walked by his seat.”
Both Southwest and American have stopped all in-flight alcohol sales until 2022. The eight passengers fined by the FAA have 30 days to respond to their penalty notices.