Refusing to wear a mask or other unruly behavior on an airplane has gotten more than 4,000 people banned by U.S. airlines over the past year. And a few people have ended up with thousands of dollars in fines — in one case, the federal government is requesting a more than $32,000 penalty.
The civil penalty is one of four the Federal Aviation Administration announced it is seeking Wednesday against airline passengers who allegedly interfered with or assaulted flight attendants. A February 7 JetBlue flight headed to New York had to return to the Dominican Republic after a passenger refused to wear a face mask after being asked by flight attendants to wear one, threw an empty alcohol bottle and food, cursed at crew members, grabbed one flight attendant and hit another and drank alcohol that wasn’t served to her.
The administration is seeking a $32,750 fine in that incident — the highest requested since the pandemic began. The other fines range from $9,000 to $16,500. In two of those cases — one on a January 26 flight and one on a January 30 flight — passengers either refused to wear a mask or refused to wear it properly. The administration also announced three penalties last week for disruptive behavior, ranging from $14,500 to $31,500.
The fines are high in part because of the FAA’s zero-tolerance policy, announced in January. Airlines have referred more than 1,300 passengers to the agency for unruly behavior since February.
But airlines have also instituted their own consequences for unruly behavior. While dozens of people were banned in the wake of the January 6 Capitol riot, the number has climbed since. Carriers told CBS News of hundreds on their lists — which are different from the federal No-Fly list — including some people banned for repeated non-compliance.
The number of people banned since airlines started requiring masks in the last year is likely higher, as two major carriers do not release that information.
Alaska: 538 since May 11, 2023
Allegiant: 15 since July 2
American: does not report
Delta: more than 1,200 since May 4, 2023
Frontier: 830 since May 8, 2023
Hawaiian: 106 since May 8, 2023
JetBlue: 140 since May 4, 2023
Spirit: 604 since May 11, 2023
Southwest: does not report
United: 750 since May 4, 2023
“With the federal mandate for air travel (including airports), and our face covering policy designed to ensure to the greatest degree that issues are addressed on the ground and potential violators do not board an aircraft, we find that the great majority comply,” says a statement from Allegiant. “For the most part, those few who may need a reminder in flight also comply.”