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TSA will resume self-defense training for pilots and crew as FAA announces more than $100,000 in fines for unruly behavior

Airlines struggle with renewed travel
Airlines struggle with renewed travel 06:32

An airline passenger in Denver allegedly bit two Transportation Security Administration officers, and another passenger in Louisville is facing charges including assault, the agency announced, amid a spate of reports of bad passenger behavior. The Federal Aviation Administration has received reports of thousands of incidents involving unruly passengers, including attacks on crew members, since the beginning of the year and the introduction of its zero-tolerance policy.

The Denver incident is still under investigation, the TSA said in a news release. The passenger in Louisville is facing state criminal charges for criminal trespass, fleeing and evading police, misdemeanor assault and resisting arrest for allegedly assaulting two officers.

The FAA also announced more fines this week, requesting a total $124,500 in civil penalties ranging from $9,000 to $22,000 against eight passengers for allegedly interfering with flight attendants, including incidents of assault and refusing to wear a mask. 

The largest fine being proposed is for a February incident on SkyWest Airlines, when a passenger traveling from Denver to Gypsum, Colorado, allegedly ignored flight attendants' instructions to wear his face mask, walked through the cabin to the bathroom while the fasten seatbelt sign was on, and drank alcohol that SkyWest did not serve. 

A $21,000 fine is being proposed for a passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight from Dallas to Albuquerque in February who allegedly repeatedly refused to wear his mask, taking it off several times after being asked to wear it, including after the plane doors closed and the aircraft started to taxi. The plane returned to the gate, and the passenger allegedly threw a mask at a customer service supervisor who boarded the plane to escort him off, hit him in his jaw and refused to wear the mask while getting off the plane. The passenger was cited by Dallas police for assault, the FAA said in a news release. 

In a third case, the FAA is proposing a $15,000 fine for a passenger who allegedly assaulted a flight attendant who was documenting which passengers were not wearing masks on a February Alaska Airlines flight from Dulles International Airport to Seattle.

Approximately 2,350 of the more than 3,100 reports of unruly behavior have involved passengers refusing to comply with the federal mask mandate, the FAA said. TSA employees have been physically assaulted in more than 69 incidents since March 2020, and the agency has initiated more than 1,700 compliance investigations since the mask mandate went into effect.

Two senators called for an end to that mandate this week, with Senator Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, sponsoring legislation that would end the federal requirement that Americans wear masks on public transportation. The move was blocked by Democrats.

"Just like the federal government should not be in the business of requiring Americans to turn over their vaccination records, the federal government should not be mandating citizens wear masks on public transportation," said Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, in remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday. "Americans should be free to make choices they feel are in the best interest of their own health and the health of their loved ones."

An end to the mandate was also opposed by the largest flight attendants' union.

"We support the federal mask mandate that's in place through September 13th as we work to regain full access to international travel, ensure transportation is not facilitating the spread of the virus or variants, and to protect passengers who do not yet have access to the vaccine," said Sara Nelson, president of AFA-CWA.

The TSA will resume self-defense training for flight crews next month, which had been paused during the pandemic. The free, voluntary training will teach flight crew members to identify and deter potential threats and apply the self-defense techniques against attackers, the agency said.

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