FAA seeking $160,000 from passengers in alcohol-related incidents

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is seeking more than $160,000 in civil penalties from eight different passengers in relation to alleged behavior following alcohol consumption and intoxication. 

A release from the federal agency posted on Monday stated that the FAA has received close to 300 reports of “passenger disturbances” after the passengers involved consumed alcohol. 

The federal law does not allow for passengers aboard a flight to consume alcohol that has not been served by flight attendants. However, the FAA stated that in several of the alleged instances the agency detailed passengers poured outside spirits into soft drinks — even going so far as to bring the alcohol into the bathroom to drink it. 

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The FAA is penalizing a female passenger $16,000 for alleged behavior on a flight that took place on Jan. 24 from San Francisco to Atlanta. The agency said the woman was told twice that she could not drink her mini bottles during the flight. The woman began filming the flight attendant after the second confrontation, pulling her mask down and finishing the mini bottle of alcohol in front of the airline worker, according to the release. 

In another instance, a passenger received a penalty of more than $34,000 on a flight from Fort Worth, Texas, to Burbank, Calif., after allegedly refusing to wear his mask at the beginning of the flight. According to the FAA, the passenger eventually fell asleep. When he woke he was asked by a flight attendant if he wanted food or a drink. He responded that he wanted a refund because, he said, he was skipped for food and beverage service. 

Later the same customer ordered alcohol from the flight attendant, and allegedly continued to refuse to wear his mask. The situation came to a head when he “continued to be combative” and threw another drink he was served on the floor. He was later asked to meet with law enforcement at the arrival gate. 

The highest fine recorded by the agency was $40,000, charged to a passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight to San Diego. The passenger allegedly drank alcohol on the flight and sexually assaulted a flight attendant on the trip. Law enforcement eventually arrested that passenger at the gate on charges of public intoxication and resisting arrest.

News of the penalties comes after the the FAA launched its “Zero Tolerance” policy against unruly passenger behavior in January

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“The rate of unruly passenger incidents on commercial flights has dropped sharply since the FAA launched its Zero Tolerance campaign but the rate remains too high,” the agency said in its release. 

Since the start of the pandemic, flight staff have dealt with an increased number of unruly customers on flights who have flouted mask mandates and other COVID-19 protocols. These confrontations have, at times, resulted in violence. 

The FAA stated that though it does not have prosecutorial ability, it has partnered with the FBI and the Department of Justice on these disturbances “as appropriate.”