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FAA calls for more than $500,000 in fines against dozens of disruptive airline passengers

The agency says it has received 3,889 reports of unruly passengers this year, most involving violations of a mask mandate on planes.

A traveler wearing a protective face mask waits to board a flight at Springfield-Branson National Airport in Springfield, Mo., earlier this month. (Angus Mordant/Bloomberg)
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The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday that it is proposing $532,000 in fines against 34 airline passengers accused of disrupting flights, including a person who threw a carry-on bag at other passengers, another who snorted what appeared to be cocaine and another who hid a flight attendant’s jacket.

The FAA summaries of the cases portray passengers determined not to wear masks, intent on drinking their own alcohol or vaping, and behaving abusively to other travelers and airline crews.

The proposed fines bring the total that the agency has sought to impose this year to more than $1 million. It’s the latest enforcement effort seeking to maintain order in the skies, as the FAA turns to what previously had been little-used powers to punish passengers who break federal rules governing conduct on planes.

The agency says it has received 3,889 reports of unruly passengers this year — 2,867 of them related to a mask mandate intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Twenty-two of the 34 new cases with proposed fines involve passengers accused of not complying with the mask rule, which this week was extended into January 2022.

Federal mask mandate for planes, buses and trains to extend into next year

The FAA launched the crackdown on misbehavior in the air at the beginning of the year amid conflicts over masks and concerns about people traveling to and from Washington during the week of the Capitol riot. The agency has asked airports to work closely with police to help bring criminal charges in the most egregious cases.

But the vast number of cases the FAA is pursuing has strained the ability of federal authorities to hold people accountable. A passenger has 30 days to respond when the agency proposes a fine, and in mid-July the FAA told The Post it had resolved seven cases. Some could take years to play out.

Unruly airplane passengers are straining the system for keeping peace in the sky

The new cases point to now-familiar sources of problems in the air, particularly disputes over masks. Eight of the new cases involve passengers accused of drinking alcohol not served by airlines, coming days after the FAA asked airports to try to stop passengers from bringing to-go drinks aboard planes. A handful of cases involving vaping, which, like smoking, isn’t allowed on planes.

The FAA didn’t identify the passengers it is proposing to fine, but it provided summaries of the allegations. Among the new cases:

• A passenger on a May 24 Jet Blue flight from New York to Orlando is accused of throwing his carry-on luggage at other passengers, lying in the aisle of the plane and grabbing a flight attendant’s ankles, then putting his head up her skirt. The passenger was bound in flexi-cuffs, and the plane made an emergency landing in Richmond, the FAA said. The agency is proposing to fine him $45,000, the largest sum in the new round of cases.

• A passenger is accused of snorting what appeared to be cocaine while traveling on a May 16 Jet Blue flight from New York to San Francisco. He also was accused of not complying with mask rules, making “nonconsensual physical contact” with another passenger and throwing a play card at a passenger while threatening him. The FAA said crew members armed themselves with ice mallets in case the man’s behavior got worse. The flight was diverted to Minneapolis. The FAA wants to fine him $42,000.

• A man on a Jan. 3 Frontier flight from Atlanta to New York is accused of trying to get onto the flight deck by attacking two flight attendants and threatening to kill one of them. The FAA wants him to pay $30,000.

• One woman is accused of acting out on two flights in a span of three days. On Jan. 21 on an Allegiant Air flight from Lexington, Ky., to Fort Lauderdale, she allegedly smoked in the plane’s lavatory. On the return journey on Jan. 24, she allegedly physically and verbally assaulted other passengers and shouted obscenities at the crew. The FAA is proposing to fine her $16,700.

• A passenger who allegedly hid a flight attendant’s jacket was on a Feb. 18 flight from Denver to Seattle. He also was accused of not following the mask rules and punching a window and a tray table. The FAA is seeking a $9,000 fine.