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2 airline passengers accused of biting, spitting on flights face largest penalties yet

Since the start of the year, the Federal Aviation Administration has proposed nearly $2 million in penalties.
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The largest-ever U.S. fines against unruly passengers have been proposed against two travelers accused of assaulting flight crew members last year, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday.

A woman, who has not been publicly identified, faces a $81,950 civil fine after officials said that she threatened a flight attendant who offered to help her after a fall and tried to open a cabin door. The passenger hit, head-butted, bit and spit at crew members, the FAA said in a statement.

The incident happened in July on a American Airlines flight from Dallas to Charlotte, N.C., the agency said. The passenger could also face criminal prosecution, the FAA said.

Another woman is facing a $77,272 fine after she attempted she tried to hug and kiss another passenger, tried to "exit during flight," and bit a passenger multiple times, the FAA said. She was restrained during the Delta Air Lines flight from Las Vegas to Atlanta in July, officials said.

Prior to these proposed fines, the steepest penalty was a $52,000 levy against an unidentified man who allegedly assaulted flight attendants after he tried to open the cockpit door during a Delta Air Lines flight from Honolulu to Seattle in 2020, said FAA spokesman Donnell Evans.

Since the start of the year, the agency has proposed nearly $2 million in penalties, it said in Friday's statement.

The FAA has been grappling with an explosion in unruly passenger reports since the beginning of the pandemic. About 65 percent of the incidents are related to federal rules requiring passengers to wear masks, according to FAA figures.

The agency said Friday that since its announcement more than a year ago of strict enforcement against unruly passengers, including a zero-tolerance policy, the number of incidents has decreased nearly 60 percent.

The FAA noted that federal law prohibits threats and interference against crew members.

Last year, the FAA urged airports to limit alcohol service, particularly in "to-go cups," citing information that travelers were getting drunk before and during boarding, a matter it said could be contributing to the unruly passenger phenomenon.

American Airlines was the last of the major airlines to announce that it would re-introduce inflight alcohol service after the carriers stopped doing so at the start of the pandemic in 2020. The company's service will resume April 18, the date the federal mask mandate expires.