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Airlines are dealing with fewer unruly passengers than they did at the height of the COVID-19 epidemic, but there still have been 915 such cases so far in 2024, including 106 incidents involving intoxicated travelers, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Between 2017 and 2020, reports of serious passenger misbehavior on U.S. airlines ranged from 544 to 1,161 annually, according to the FAA.

FAA: Zero Tolerance Continues

 However, in 2021, 5,973 incidents were reported, many in response to restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as mandatory masking requirements.

That led the FAA to declare a zero-tolerance policy, eschewing warnings to misbehaving passengers in favor of fines and other penalties. 

In 2023, for example, the agency received 2,075 reports of unruly passengers and responded with 407 law enforcement actions and $7.5 million in fines.

The FAA is empowered to issue fines of up to $37,000 to passengers who fail to follow crew instructions or engage in disruptive or violent behavior on a plane. The agency can also refer egregious cases to the FBI for criminal investigation, with felony charges possible.

Acting out onboard an aircraft can also jeopardize passengers’ eligibility to participate in programs like the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck program and cause the airlines involved to ban unruly passengers from future flights.

For example, a March 1 incident aboard a United Airlines flight where a British man became physically and verbally aggressive during a fight with his girlfriend resulted in the traveler being arrested and later ordered to pay $20,638 in restitution to the airline.

In 2021, a female passenger was hit with a record $81,950 fine for pushing and hitting flight attendants and trying to open a cabin door on an American Airlines flight. In another 2021 case, a $77,272 fine was imposed on a woman who planted an unwanted kiss and hug on a seatmate, tried to exit the plane in mid-flight and bit another traveler.

The good news? If current rates persist, 2024 could be the most peaceful year onboard U.S. airlines since before COVID.