Delta Air Lines
Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

Unruly Passengers Face Up to $35,000 In Fines and 20 Years of Imprisonment: Federal Aviation Administration

Because of an increase of a “wake of recent, troubling incidents” of threatening behavior or violence within the past year which have mainly occurred aboard airplanes, an order was signed by Steve Dickson — who is the current administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States — yesterday, Wednesday, January 13, 2021 which directs a stricter legal enforcement policy against unruly airline passengers, who can face penalties of up to $35,000.00 in fines and 20 years of imprisonment as a result of their actions.

Unruly Passengers Face Up to $35,000 In Fines and 20 Years of Imprisonment: Federal Aviation Administration

“Flying is the safest mode of transportation and I signed this order to keep it that way,” Dickson was quoted as saying in this official press release. “Dangerous behavior doesn’t fly!

Effective immediately through Tuesday, March 30, 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States will not address these cases with warnings or counseling, as the agency will instead pursue legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline flight crew members. Historically, the agency has addressed incidents of unruly passengers using a variety of methods ranging from warnings and counseling to civil penalties.

In addition to multiple incidents of passengers refusing to wear masks over their faces while aboard airplanes and the violence which occurred in the United States Capitol building in the District of Columbia on January 6, 2021 from which five people died as a result, two specific incidents in August of 2020 were cited in this official press release from the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States, as a civil penalty of:

  • $15,000.00 was proposed against a passenger who allegedly repeatedly screamed obscenities at — as well as hit — a flight attendant aboard an airplane operated by Allegiant Air during a flight from Clearwater, Florida, to Mascoutah, Illinois. The passenger also allegedly grabbed the telephone from the flight attendant while he was speaking with the captain about the behavior of the passenger over a face-covering dispute. The captain diverted the aircraft as a result of the actions of the unruly passenger.
  • $7,500.00 was proposed against a passenger who allegedly removed his or her face covering, continually bothered other passengers, and — at one point — grabbed the buttock of a flight attendant as she walked by the passenger’s row of seats aboard an airplane operated by SkyWest Airlines during a flight from Atlanta to Chicago.

Passengers who interfere with, physically assault, or threaten to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft face stiff penalties — including fines of up to $35,000.00 and imprisonment of up to 20 years — as this dangerous behavior can potentially distract, disrupt, and threaten the safety functions of members of flight crews of airlines.

After receiving an enforcement letter from the Federal Aviation Administration, passengers typically have 30 days to respond to the agency. The Federal Aviation Administration does not identify individuals against whom it proposes civil penalties.

The Federal Aviation Administration has initiated greater than 1,300 enforcement actions against unruly passengers during the past ten years. Although the federal agency does not have regulatory authority over aviation security or no-fly lists, its employees and representatives work closely with federal law enforcement and national security partners on any reported security threats that may impact aviation safety.


Threats and violence aboard airplanes is inexcusable and unacceptable in most cases — preventing an attack by a terrorist is one of the rare exceptions — and should never be tolerated.

Airlines have taken steps of their own to mitigate the danger of threatening behavior or violence aboard airplanes in recent weeks — including but not limited to the banning of firearms in checked baggage and not serving alcoholic beverages to passengers aboard airplanes during select flights — through Thursday, January 21, 2021, which is the day after the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden as the 46th president of the United States.

Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

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