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2 airplane passengers accused of biting and hitting could pay record federal fines

Greg Wallace, CNN

Two airplane passengers accused of hitting and biting crew and other passengers are facing a total of nearly $160,000 in fines, US officials announced Friday.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the $81,950 and $77,272 fines are the two largest it has ever brought against an individual passenger for acting out on an aircraft.

The passenger facing the nearly $82,000 fine is accused of repeatedly hitting a flight attendant on the head aboard an American Airlines flight last July. The flight attendant was responding to threats and the passenger’s attempt to open an aircraft door, the FAA said.

“After the passenger was restrained in flex cuffs, she spit at, headbutted, bit and tried to kick the crew and other passengers,” the FAA said. “Law enforcement apprehended her in Charlotte.”

American said in July that it banned the passenger from flying on the airline.

“We applaud our crew for their professionalism and quick effort to protect those on board,” the statement said.

The union representing American’s flight attendants said Friday that penalties for outbursts will make other passengers feel safer onboard.

“We are thrilled that the FAA and Dept of Transportation are making fines match the crime,” said spokesman Paul Hartshorn of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. “We have to have accountability for people who are doing this.”

The passenger facing the $77,000 fine is accused of trying “to hug and kiss the passenger seated next to her; walked to the front of the aircraft to try to exit during flight; refused to return to her seat; and bit another passenger multiple times.”

The FAA said that passenger, from a Delta Air Lines flight last July, also had to be physically restrained by the flight crew.

FAA’s zero tolerance policy

The incidents are two of nearly 6,000 instances of violent and disruptive passengers reported to the Federal Aviation Administration last year. Crews reported more than 1,000 more in the first few months of 2022, according to FAA data.

The FAA has now announced around $3.6 million in fines since launching a zero-tolerance campaign in 2021.

“If you’re on an airplane, don’t be a jerk. … Also, if you’re not on an airplane, don’t be (a jerk),” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in an appearance on “The View” talk show shortly before the announcement.

“The bottom line is if you do it on an airplane and you endanger flight crews and fellow passengers, you will be fined by the FAA and you may be referred for criminal prosecution.”

Legislation on no-fly list

Several Democratic members of Congress this week introduced legislation that would lead to a no-fly list for “violent offenders convicted of assaulting flight crew — including flight attendants, pilots, and crew members.”

Unions representing flight attendants have voiced support for the legislation.

Buttigieg said his department continues to look at the possibility of creating such a list.

Many of the outbursts reported to federal officials involve the requirement to wear a face mask while traveling. That mandate is set to expire April 18. Officials have not said whether it will be extended or allowed to expire.

The FAA says it has referred 80 passengers to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

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Top image: Planes are parked at Miami International Airport gates in November 2021. (Photo by Marta Lavandier/AP).

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