Unruly Passengers Taken To Task

16 Jul 21 17 Comments

We’ve all heard the stories of passengers acting out on commercial flights, leading to the coining of the term “air rage“. This is generally described as a new phenomenon, related to entitlement issues of a newer generation, although the earliest case that I found referenced was in 1950, when a “barrel-chested” passenger attacked a cabin crew member, scratching her face and causing “mayhem” in the cabin. Two husky passengers managed to subdue him until landing.

Photo by Rudy Dong

That said, there’s been a notable spike in air rage incidents in 2021. AirRage.org notes that there was a similar spike in the US after 9/11, possibly connected to a heightened awareness of danger. On top of that, the aviation industry is suffering from staffing shortages after the rapid re-start of aviation this year backed by the success of vaccination programmes. Shortages of ground crew, cabin crew and flight crew are leading to delays and cancelled flights, which ups the stress level of everyone.

As recently as 2000, the most common trigger of air rage in the UK was identified as passengers who were confronted for smoking, although I’d love to see studies as to whether this is still a common issue. Alcohol is another culprit and Southwest Airlines and United have opted not to sell alcohol on short-haul flights while American only serves in business and first class.

The increasing discomfort of travel, ranging for hours spent in security snarl-ups to smaller and smaller seats in crowded planes, surely has some part to play in it. The general background levels of anxiety leading on from the pandemic can become a focal point when packed tight into a space with strangers.

In the US, mask-wearing is highly politicised and the federal mandate to wear a mask for air travel has becoming something of a lightning rod, leading to direct confrontations in the cabin.

In the first half of this year, the FAA has received 3,271 reports of unruly behaviour by passengers, and the great majority of these (2,475) are passengers who refused to wear their facemask on aircraft, despite being told that this is a federal requirement.

The FAA has responded to the problem by publicising the high fines levied against nine passengers for alleged unruly behaviour. They have launched a Zero Tolerance campaign for passengers who do not follow federal regulations and refuse to obey crew instructions.

The following video is a part of this campaign and features children explaining why it is not safe to disrupt flights.

The video only has 12,000 views and YouTube followed it up with an Real ATC video with three million views so although I applaud the initiative, I’m not convinced this video will have the effect that the FAA are hoping for. Maybe a compilation of the videos taken of passengers acting badly?

Although the FAA’s publicity is currently focused on Zero Tolerance, over the same six month period of over 3,200 reports received, the FAA has only proposed enforcement action in 83 cases, for a total of $682,000 in fines.

In a move that I suspect will have more of an effect than videos and fines, they have chosen to highlight the top nine cases, which account for $119,000 of the fines (which, just for reference, means that the remaining cases average $7,600 each).

Usually I end up rewriting this kind of press release but in this case, I think it is better to allow the bare bones descriptions to speak for themselves.

  • $7,500 against a passenger on a Feb. 25 2021, Southwest Airlines flight from Denver, Colo., to Los Angeles, Calif. The FAA alleges that upon boarding, flight attendants instructed the passenger twice to wear his facemask properly. He moved it below his nose and mouth both times. A Southwest Airlines customer service supervisor boarded the aircraft to speak with him about his non-compliance and provided him a facemask that would fit properly after he told flight attendants that his mask was broken. As the supervisor left, he again pulled his facemask below his nose and mouth. The supervisor returned and asked him to get off the aircraft, but the passenger refused. As a result, the airline had every passenger deplane. The non-compliant passenger was not allowed to reboard. His actions caused the flight to be delayed by 38 minutes.

  • $10,000 against a passenger on a Feb. 19, 2021, Republic Airlines flight from Indianapolis, Ind., to Philadelphia, Penn. The FAA alleges that during the boarding process, flight attendants twice asked the passenger to wear her facemask. The FAA further alleges that the passenger and her party refused to wear their facemasks, played loud music, and spoke loudly during the safety announcements. During the cabin check, a flight attendant asked her to buckle her seatbelt and wear her facemask, but she did not comply. The passenger continued to play loud, obscene music and used obscene language about the flight attendants and other passengers. Flight attendants notified the captain, who returned the flight to the gate, where law enforcement met the passenger. When the captain told the passenger that she and her party would be removed from the aircraft, she began arguing with the captain and used obscene language.

  • $10,500 against a passenger on a Dec. 19, 2020, Allegiant Air flight from Syracuse, N.Y., to Punta Gorda, Fla. The FAA alleges that while the fasten-seatbelt sign was on during a period of moderate turbulence, the passenger got out of his seat to use the lavatory. When flight attendants told him it was unsafe to do so, he argued that he was drinking at the airport for five hours prior to the flight. Flight attendants allowed him to use the lavatory, but upon exiting, he nearly fell on the flight attendants three times and argued with them about being allowed out of his seat. He was not wearing his facemask, and flight attendants reminded him to wear it several times. After flight attendants got him in his seat, he began vaping despite flight attendant instructions to stop. Throughout the rest of the flight he continued to vape, not wear his facemask, and get out of his seat. The captain called for law enforcement to meet the passenger at the gate.

  • $10,500 against a passenger on a Feb. 27, 2021, Allegiant Air flight from Provo, Utah, to Mesa, Ariz. The FAA alleges the passenger refused to wear his facemask over his mouth and nose throughout the flight. Flight attendants instructed him seven separate times to wear his facemask properly, and each time he moved it off of his nose after the flight attendant walked away. When told that he needed to cooperate and provide information to fill out a passenger disturbance report, he argued with the flight attendant, refused to provide his identification, said he would continue to pull his facemask down, and claimed that it was fine just over his mouth. After the plane landed, he approached a flight attendant from behind as she prepared to open the cabin door and touched her. He stated that she was being aggressive about the facemask policy and got very close to her while complaining about her enforcement of the policy. This behavior intimidated the flight attendant and caused her to cry.

  • $10,500 against a passenger on a Jan. 23, 2021, Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle, Wash., to Ketchikan, Alaska. The FAA alleges that as the flight was preparing to depart from the gate, the passenger made a 911 call reporting that the aircraft was being hijacked. He told the 911 dispatcher that a man was holding up a flight attendant at knifepoint near the front of the aircraft and repeatedly asked the dispatcher to stop the flight. While the aircraft was taxiing to the runway, he left his seat twice to enter the lavatory despite flight attendant instructions to stay seated. Due to the 911 calls, the pilots taxied the aircraft to a cargo ramp where law enforcement met the flight. Law enforcement boarded the aircraft armed with rifles and evacuated passengers and crew. While at the cargo ramp, the passenger called the FBI and made mention of a bomb. The aircraft was temporarily taken out of service for bomb screening. Law enforcement also screened all passengers and crew as a result of the passenger’s comments. All of the passenger’s claims were false and resulted in a multi-hour delay of the flight.

  • $13,000 against a passenger on a Jan. 29, 2021, Frontier Airlines flight from San Diego, Calif., to Las Vegas, Nev. The FAA alleges the passenger repeatedly removed her facemask and ignored crew instruction to wear it properly. The FAA further alleges that the passenger drank alcohol that Frontier didn’t serve, which is against FAA regulation.

  • $17,000 against a passenger on a Jan. 25, 2021, Frontier Airlines flight from St. Louis, Mo., to Las Vegas, Nev. The FAA alleges the passenger refused to wear his facemask during the boarding process despite direct instruction from flight attendants to do so. Furthermore, the flight attendant had to pause the preflight safety demonstration twice to tell him to hang up his phone, put it on airplane mode, and wear his mask. During the flight, a flight attendant instructed him a second time to wear his mask. During the final descent, the passenger unbuckled his seatbelt, stood up, and moved to a different seat closer to the front of the aircraft. He ignored crew instructions that it was unsafe to be unbuckled and move about the cabin at that time.

  • $18,500 against a passenger on a Feb. 19, 2021, Republic Airlines flight from Indianapolis, Ind., to Philadelphia, Penn. The FAA alleges that flight attendants repeatedly told the passenger to wear her facemask properly prior to boarding and during the boarding process. The passenger and members of her travel party were also playing loud, obscene music and refusing to wear their masks during the preflight safety announcements. During a flight attendant’s cabin check, she instructed the passenger to wear her seatbelt and facemask. During taxi from the gate, the passenger threatened the passenger in front of her when they closed the window shade. A flight attendant again instructed the party to settle down and wear their facemasks, but they did not comply. They continued to play loud, obscene music and use obscene language against the flight attendants and other passengers. The crew notified the captain, and the plane returned to the gate for law enforcement to meet the passenger. When the captain left the cockpit to notify the passenger that she was being removed from the flight, she began to argue and use obscene language with the captain. As she stood up to leave the aircraft, she punched the female passenger who was seated in front of her, holding a small infant, in the back of the head.

  • $21,500 against a passenger on a Dec. 27, 2020, Frontier Airlines flight from Nashville, Tenn., to Orlando, Fla. The FAA alleges the passenger drank alcohol that Frontier did not serve, which is against FAA regulations. He refused to comply with a flight attendant’s instruction to stop drinking the alcohol and wear a facemask. The FAA further alleges the passenger began fighting with the flight attendant and nearby passengers about the facemask policy. The flight attendant issued the passenger a “red card” for failing to comply with the facemask instructions, but he continued to argue with nearby passengers, ultimately striking the passenger next to him on the head. The flight attendant reseated him in another row, notified the captain of the disturbance, and requested law enforcement to meet him at the gate upon arrival.

Photo by Lukas Souza

These passengers and the 74 others who have received FAA enforcement letters have thirty days in which to respond to the FAA regarding the incidents. It’s hard to imagine what they might say in their defence.

To be honest, the main response I have after reading these is a deep relief that I have never had to work as cabin crew! There is no way I’d have the patience.

Category: Crazy,


  • Nobody seems to recall the idea of the “social contract”–that we give up certain rights (to the government) in order to accrue the benefits of living in a society. This is also an illustration of the “tragedy of the commons”–the idea that if we all exploit a common resource it might be degraded beyond further use. Have you noticed that none of the folks who say “My rights have been violated” never say “our rights … ,” or, more significantly, “my responsibilities …?”

  • Roger makes an interesting observation. But I notice that all the incidents that Sylvia noted here took place on board of American airlines (No, not the airline bearing that name, but American air transport companies).
    Of course, this can be attributed to the source that Sylvia used, obviously published, or at least released, by the FAA.
    But there is an increasing culture of “entitlement” in the USA, a mentality of “you can’t tell me to do anything that I don’t want to do”, and this feeling seems to have really taken root in recent years, fostered especially during the Trump presidency.

    My flying career was mainly in general aviation. Banner towing alone took about 3700 flying hours. Then I was working for about 12 years as a corporate pilot. Most of my more regulated, airline-style flying was with air cargo operations but I have also worked for passenger-carrying airlines (Ryanair and KLM), albeit not my entire career.

    I have never encountered the sort of behaviour that Sylvia describes here myself, nor have I heard of many similar incidents in Europe. Some pop stars or senior politicians have been known to cause problems, such as Dolores O’Riordan who was drunk and disorderly during a flight, but had the good grace to apologise later.
    I heard about an Irish politician in the EU in Brussels from the cabin attendant. She – the politician – like many other members of the Euro parliament – was in the habit of returning her business class ticket (free, courtesy of the EU), getting a refund, and then buying a tourist-class ticket, of course pocketing the difference.
    She would wait boarding until the very last moment. Business class (Aero Lingus does not operate business any more on the shorter routes) used to be in the front section. She would then just sit down in a free seat in business .

    When challenged by the cabin crew she pulled rank: “Do you know ho I am?” In all fairness, not all politicians did this. On a positioning flight from Dublin to Brussels I once sat behind a former Taoiseach (Prime Minister), the late Garrett Fitzgerald and some of his staff members.

    So there is a wide-open question:
    Is “air rage” on the increase everywhere,
    is it a affecting mainly US operators,
    or are they just a few rare incidents that draw widespread attention?

    • Hi,Rudy. … Not driving ‘at’ anything, except concurrence with Your comments .Re: the politicians- I meant precisely what I said…that: I’ll “pass” on the politicians; ‘any’ politicians for that matter.Thing that’s mildly disturbing is, a preponderance of them are: Attorneys! 😱 (pas bon).
      Cheers, my friend. Remember: …
      ✨Brown side Down, Blue side Up✨☝on the Attitude gyro.
      Happy Trails!😄

  • As with Rudy Jakma, I’ve been Certificated for awhile (54yrs.,most Ratings/no Balloon) flown globally.
    His observations regarding comportment of some citizens has lamentable, irritating Merit. I’ll ‘Pass’, on specific Irish ‘politicians’ and ‘their’ public conduct.
    I believe I have the remedy for ALASKA, SOUTHWEST’S and UNITED’s (et al) recent perturbations regarding the dangerous anomaly of episodic unruly Passengers; which- is increasing. Needs to be passed-on to (‘One on One’) to the C.E.O. of the first Air Carrier to contact me.
    Security Is paramount.So Sylvia, you’re free to release my personal ‘grids’ to the 1st, major Executive to contact-You. Hopefully, it’ll be “ALASKA” – but for it to WORK and it shall – In-house Airline Security ‘Close-Hold’ is mandatory. Cheers,
    P. Mahoney

  • The recent increasing incidence of people letting out their inner jackass is not confined to airlines. Today’s local paper (Boston Globe) discussed misbehavior in restaurants; they had a long list covering just the local area (including one place so stressed that the owner gave everyone a day off, with pay, to decompress), and from what I hear this area is not special. The obvious new difference is that local restaurants no longer require masks of vaccinated customers (and don’t ask for evidence of vaccination), while EVERYONE on a plane must wear a mask — and we’ve had a steady downpour of misinformation and outright lies about the necessity of masks and their incompatibility with personal liberty. The problem of blatant untruth and selfishness precedes Trump, of course; Fox (usually called “Faux” by people I know) was founded decades ago to tell lies, and the cancellation of the fairness doctrine (covering radio and TV) in the 1980’s let morons like Limbaugh commit reverse peristalsis on the air on a regular basis. But the combination of a need for new restrictions and a bad-tempered infant in the top seat have made matters much worse; I just hope there’s enough evidence that these people don’t get out of their fines, and enough communication among airlines (or from the FAA) that they’re on everyone’s no-fly list.

  • I am not entirely sure what Patrick is driving at.
    The story about the singer has been all over the news.
    The story about (Irish) members of the EU parliament cashing in their business class tickets, buying economy and then demanding an upgrade has been subject of an investigation by RTE, the State radio and TV provider and is in the public domain.
    I mentioned Dr. FitzGerald because he was not suspected of any of this. I sat right behind him myself and he had discussions with members of his staff in the seats adjoining his, also across the aisle.
    It would have been difficult to arrange this in a last-minute “upgrade”.
    In total I was involved in passenger carrying airline operations for about 5 years of my more than 45 years as a pilot and I have not had any problems like the ones Sylvia described myself.

  • I don’t think there’s any doubt that this disease is on the way to the UK. Some people today demonstrate a staggering degree of selfishness and lack of consideration for others. It either started or at least got dramatically worse in the Thatcher years “there’s no such thing as society” one can only hope that our rule of law will keep things under some sort of control (assuming corruption in the various administrations can be kept down)

  • I agree with STEVEDD who writes that “Some people today demonstrate a staggering degree of selfishness and lack of consideration for others.” The USA is where I see the most appalling behaviour against others, including almost daily mass shootings. I would not go into the USA now if you paid me (I’m in Ontario Canada). Trump’s insanity coupled with much lowered quality of education and lack of parenting skills have resulted in people that can’t talk or write english properly (nowadays almost every word has to be modified down to one syllable, like “veggies” instead of vegetables – 4 syllables is impossible for them, and the use of “done” instead of “finished” is one thing that drives me nuts. But I digress, this shameful behavour on airplanes has to stop. Don’t let them on the airplane in the first place, use more stringent screening. Air Marshals should duct-tape idiot passengers to their seats (as has been recently done). Flight attendants are wonderful people who have been highly trained to save people in emergencies, and to have bright, happy personalities during sometime-outrageous behaviour. They don’t deserve to be treated badly, nor do fellow passengers.

    • If you look at the preponderance of videos featuring Americans behaving badly, most of the protagonists don’t appear to be the sort who listened to Rush Limbaugh (when he was alive, as he has since passed away). Yes, there are a few of the stereotypical “redneck” sorts that coastal elites think sum up conservatives; but most of the fistfights seem to be inner city types and even many of the facemask fighters are younger women – including the one who punched a Southwest flight attendant earlier this summer.

      There is a general cultural rot going on in western countries and that’s not limited to the US. Look at how many such cases happen on low cost European leisure airlines. Usually anger involving alcohol there. So, there’s no room for smugness here.

  • Hmmm, veggies is a 2-syllable word not one, so please replace that in my comment with — “merch” instead of merchandise.

    • IIRC, “meat and 2 veg” goes back half a century or more in the UK; I’ve just looked up Ogden Nash’s fulmination about “cuke”, “glad”, “lope”, and “mum” (2 botanical fruits, 2 flowers), and found it was collected in 1949. Connecting decaying language to decaying behavior is a stretch.

  • $10,000 fine for a bomb threat? Hopefully a criminal prosecution also. In a brief Internet search I was not able to find out the outcome of that case. Maybe Sylvia can.

    That Internet search alarmingly showed up several incidents of bomb threat hoaxes including one last week. An irate Air Canada passenger told the check in personnel that he had a bomb in his bag. Apparently he was mad that he had to pay a carry-on bag fee!


  • Most if not all restaurants and bars in the US have a posted sign reading “We reserve the right to refuse service…”. How about airlines do something similar. Ban troublemakers and through reciprocal agreements, other airlines follow suit. Banned from Alaska, banned from Southwest, Delta, etc. Same should apply to those who attempt to avoid TSA and cause an entire terminal to be emptied. Imagine the financial costs these law breakers cause.

  • Ernie: IIUC, some people are being banned, just as someone who hit a baseball player with a thrown object (a couple of days ago in NYC) has been banned for life by all major-league baseball parks. I can see three problems: the episodes get publicity but the punishments don’t (so people don’t realize how severe the penalties are), the airlines are supposed to be competitors (while US baseball is a privileged semi-monopoly) so an overall banning is problematic, and too many people think they can get away with bad conduct just as the vast majority of dangerous drivers don’t get caught. The first two of these are solvable, one with news media help and the other with a no-fly list devoted to actual misbehavior rather than prejudice and malicious gossip; the third may be changed by pursuit of the first two, although it’s not clear how often someone with a mad on thinks of consequences.

    There are many more incidents listed in an article today: https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2021/07/18/airplane-fight-behavior-faa-arrests . Some of these could have been fixed by more-rigorous training of bartenders on the ground, but many probably couldn’t. I wouldn’t mind seeing a 1-drink-per-person limit on bar/restaurant service in airports, or even a total ban, but airports have become so dependent on the space rental fees they get from vendors (I know of at least one vendor, a pseudo-Mexican chain with lots of tequilas, that has no outlets outside airports) that they’d be hard-put to enforce this.

  • Although the recent comments are going a bit off-subject, it would seem that there is a general increase in bad, offensive and aggressive behaviour. Witness the chaos and unacceptable actions of football “fans” before, during, and after the European championships in Wembley Stadium. Racism, booing the other teams, even the Danish national anthem. English supporters seem to be among the very worst in the world, it should suffice to ban England from a number of international championships. Is this connected to “air rage”? It probably goes much deeper and more resembles tribalism in its most degraded manifestations. If I were a pilot, or cabin attendant, I might consider refusing a flight carrying a substantial number of these yobos to a match.
    Oh, to return to the subject: Cabin crew are highly trained and competent professionals. They are far, far more than just pretty girls – or handsome boys ;-) – serving the drinks. Their skills and presence of mind has been instrumental in saving lives during many sad crashes.
    They know the procedures and the part of the Company Operations Manual that refers to their duties inside out. And often have followed them even in moments of intense pressure, acting bravely and with total disregard for their own safety, when lesser individuals might have panicked and left the passengers to their fate.

  • Disruptions have reached the stage where even the august Harvard Business School is taking notice. No surprise that they focus on what management should be doing, and a lot of the discussion seems inapplicable to air service issues (e.g., AFAICT there are few or no inexperienced cabin crew (unlike restaurants, which pay so badly that a lot of experienced people have quit)), but there are some things that could be done so that front-line people get less abuse.

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