The Federal Aviation Administration is upping its “zero tolerance” war on pandemic passengers who disrupt flights by refusing to wear masks. In a press release on Wednesday, the agency proposed fines of $9,000 to $32,750 against three violators of the mandatory policy.
The $32,750 fine may hit a JetBlue Airlines passenger flying from the Dominican Republican to New York who committed a laundry list of offenses, including refusal to comply with repeated instructions to don a mask:
... failed to comply with multiple flight attendant instructions to wear a facemask; threw an empty alcohol bottle into the air, almost hitting another passenger; threw food into the air; shouted obscenities at crew members; grabbed a flight attendant’s arm, causing her pain; struck the arm of another flight attendant twice and scratched his hand; and drank alcohol that had not been served to her by the cabin crew.
The FAA wrote that the flight was forced to return to its country of origin as a result of the passenger’s antics. Another $16,500 fine was proposed against a Southwest Airlines passenger flying from Chicago to Sacramento, California. That passenger refused to comply with flight attendants’ requests to mask up before takeoff and was instructed to leave the flight by a supervisor; on their way out, they called the attendants “pathetic” and hit one of them with his luggage. The remaining $9,000 fine may go to an Alaska Airlines passenger flying from Bozeman, Montana, to Seattle, Washington, who refused to put on a mask after boarding and thus forced the flight to return to its gate.
The FAA proposed another $9,000 fine against a passenger who walked up and down the aisles of a flight and refused to return to their seat, the agency didn’t indicate the incident involved a dispute over masks.
The zero-tolerance policy, which the FAA announced in January 2021, came after what the agency described as “a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior.” It created “a special emphasis enforcement program applicable to passengers who assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of a crewmember’s duties in violation” of federal law.
The FAA said there were two primary causes of the incidents, the first being jerks who refuse to wear a mask onboard planes and thus risk spreading the novel coronavirus to those nearby. The second cause, involving many of the same anti-maskers, were incidents related to “recent violence at the U.S. Capitol.”
Airlines have banned thousands of people since implementing mandatory mask requirements in June 2020, and ABC News reported a spike in bans after the January 6 Capitol riots, when Donald Trump supporters disrupted flights by refusing to wear masks and harassing fellow passengers and crew. Other right-wingers to receive airline bans for violating the mask policies have included a Republican state legislator in Alaska whose only other option to get to the capital ended up being a 20-hour commute and a pro-Trump grifter who was maybe just staging a publicity stunt.
Hopefully, this doesn’t end up being another one of the permanent escalations of aggressive security procedures at airports and on flights that have sprung up over the past 20 years, which are sometimes applied as indiscriminately against people who have done nothing wrong as they are against actual troublemakers. FAA administrator Steve Dickson recently extended the zero-tolerance measure, originally intended to expire in May, until at least September 2021. According to CNN, the FAA says reports of unruly passengers used to come in every few days, but despite a massive drop in passenger volume during the pandemic, they now often receive multiple such reports a day.