An American Airlines passenger who allegedly pushed a flight attendant and spat at crew members has been hit with the biggest fine ever issued by US aviation regulators, and another fine topping $75,000 (£57,500) was issued to a Delta Air Lines passenger who bit a fellow passenger after trying to hug and kiss another.
Since January 2021 when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposed a zero-tolerance policy, the agency has proposed fines of about $7m for disruptive passengers. Two new fines issued on Friday were the highest yet.
The FAA proposed a $81,950 fine for an American Airlines passenger on a July flight from Dallas to Charlotte in North Carolina, alleging the passenger “threatened to hurt the flight attendant that offered help to the passenger after she fell into the aisle. The passenger then pushed the flight attendant aside and tried to open the cabin door.”
The FAA said: “Two flight attendants tried to restrain the passenger, but she repeatedly hit one of the flight attendants on the head. After the passenger was restrained in flex cuffs, she [spat] at, head-butted, bit and tried to kick the crew and other passengers.”
The agency also proposed a $77,272 fine for a Delta passenger on a July flight from Las Vegas to Atlanta, alleging the passenger “attempted to hug and kiss the passenger seated next to her; walked to the front of the aircraft to try to exit during flight; refused to return to her seat; and bit another passenger multiple times”.
Delta said it had “zero tolerance for unruly behavior at our airports and on our flights as nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and people”.
The FAA imposed its zero-tolerance mandate when unruly passenger incidents escalated around the time of the 6 January 2021 attack on the US Capitol. Incidents remained elevated after Joe Biden’s administration imposed a mandate requiring passengers to wear masks on airplanes and in airports because of Covid cases in February 2021.
The FAA said neither incident that led to Friday’s fines involved passengers who objected to wearing masks.
The US transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, told ABC’s the View program on Friday that the administration’s mandate requiring masks on airplanes and in public transport would either expire or be renewed on 18 April.
“We all want to get to where there are fewer restrictions. We just need to get to a point where it is safe to do that,” Buttigieg said. “Air travel is a little different than a lot of other environments but we would love to get there.”
Airlines and Republicans in Congress are pressing the White House to end the mask mandate and some lawmakers sent a new letter to Biden on Friday.
The FAA said that since January 2021 there had been a record 7,060 unruly passenger incidents reported, 70% involved masking rules, but that the rate had declined 60% since its high in 2021.
The FAA said in February it had referred 80 unruly passengers to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution.
Buttigieg said the administration and Congress were still looking at a no-fly list for unruly passengers.