The Federal Aviation Administration fined a DFW International Airport passenger $23,000 for allegedly striking an American Airlines flight attendant after becoming enraged that her seat did not recline.
The unnamed woman “verbally abused flight attendants after she realized her assigned seat would not recline,” then refused to switch seats with multiple passengers and “kept yelling at flight attendants,” according to the air safety agency.
The incident occurred on a flight between DFW Airport and Aspen, Colorado, on March 11. This year, the FAA has received over 5,000 complaints of unruly passengers, including more than 100 acts of violence against flight crews. Flight attendants at American Airlines in Fort Worth and Southwest Airlines in Dallas have both been accused of high-profile passenger assaults, which have resulted in federal charges.
The FAA reported that three of the ten fines were levied on American Airlines flights and three more on Southwest Airlines flights. The fines for the ten passengers ranged from $9,000 to $32,000 and totaled $201,287. According to the FAA, in the incident involving the passenger flying from DFW to Aspen, the woman eventually switched seats but then continued verbally abusing flight attendants. “She then attempted to strike a flight attendant on the right forearm again.”
The woman also refused to wear a face mask as required by federal law.
A woman shoved an American Airlines flight attendant in the chest while being removed from a plane for refusing to wear a face mask in a separate incident in January. She received a $24,000 fine. In May, a woman refused to buckle her seatbelt on a Horizon Air flight from Austin to San Francisco, punched and screamed at her husband and son, and distracted flight attendants.
“She snatched cookies from a nearby passenger and threw trash at a flight attendant,” the FAA said in announcing her $32,000 fine.
Bad behavior like this has prompted flight attendant unions to call for more arrests and prosecutions of passengers who assault flight attendants or attempt to disrupt flights. Since early this year, federal regulators have urged passengers to remain calm on flights, but authorities have recently taken a firmer stance. The FAA and the Justice Department announced last week that the FBI had referred 37 passengers to federal prosecutors for prosecution.
“The most effective way to deter bad actors and put a stop to the spike in disruptive passengers is to refer the most violent, physical assaults against crew members and passengers to the Department of Justice for public prosecution,” said Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson in a statement. A California man was charged in federal court last week with punching an American Airlines flight attendant in the face in October and faces more than 20 years in prison.
In September, House lawmakers held a hearing in which several lawmakers called for airlines to share a list of disruptive passengers among themselves so that problematic people could be barred from traveling across the industry, though the proposal was met with skepticism from some airline officials.
“If a passenger physically assaults crew members or other passengers on one airline, they pose a risk to passengers and crew at every airline,” Nelson said. “They should be banned from flying on all airlines. Period.”