Drunk passengers berating fellow travelers and abusing flight crews are facing new federal penalties as high as $40,000 for their alleged behavior.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced fines for eight passengers on Monday totaling $161,823, the third highest set of fines since the agency announced a zero-tolerance policy for unruly on-board behavior earlier this year.
Flight crews have reported more than 5,200 cases of unruly passengers to the FAA since January 1 and the agency "has received nearly 300 reports of passenger disturbances due to alcohol and intoxication."
The steepest fine -- $40,823 -- is for a passenger who the FAA says illegally brought their own alcohol on board an April Southwest Airlines flight. The FAA says when a flight attendant told the passenger to stop drinking "the passenger then sexually assaulted the flight attendant." The agency alleges the passenger then went to the plane's lavatory to smoke cannabis. The passenger was arrested for resisting arrest and public intoxication, the FAA says.
Another passenger who appeared to be intoxicated took off his face mask repeatedly after crew members told him to keep it on, the FAA says. He swore at other passengers and yelled at a crew member saying, "This is America. This is free speech. What don't you understand?," according to the FAA's account. That passenger was fined $24,000.
Another passenger allegedly "urinated on the lavatory floor, verbally abused the flight crew, and refused to follow crew instructions to wear a face mask," the FAA says in its news release. That passenger was fined $17,000.
The list goes on: Another passenger threw a drink "and stomped on it"; another "went to the lavatory, mixed his own alcohol with a soft drink, and threw the empty liquor bottle into the toilet," according to the FAA.
A number of altercations involved passengers who brought their own alcohol aboard planes, which is prohibited.
"People are not allowed to drink their own alcohol on a flight or even in the airport, for that matter. They're not allowed to serve themselves. And that's news to some people," Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, recently told CNN Travel in an interview about the unruly behavior that's increasingly common among US airline passengers.
Incidents of unruly behavior on planes are "affecting the ability of flight attendants to do their jobs," Nelson said.
"Not only are they a threat to the crew and you, the flier, due to the possibility of people getting hurt directly in these violent outbursts, but they are distracting to the flight crew. They are potentially putting us in a position of missing cues for other threats, or larger threats, such as a coordinated attack," she said.
Nelson says that the incidents are happening "with a relatively small group of people."
"I also want to stress that we're not willing to accept this as the new normal," she said.
The FAA's announcement comes as airlines are facing their biggest onslaught of passengers since the start of the pandemic. The Transportation Security Administration says a total 20 million people will fly for the Thanksgiving holiday, dwarfing pandemic air travel numbers of last Thanksgiving.
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