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Airplane Unruliness: What’s at Stake?

Air travel has never been easier, safer, or more convenient. Many people rely on frequent flights for work, to travel to their favorite getaways, or to reconnect with their distant loved ones. However, flights don’t always go as planned, and there can be permanent and unfortunate consequences for behaving poorly or against airline policies. Recently, disruptive plane behavior has been happening with increasing frequency. The Federal Aviation Administration has reported over 4,000 unruly passenger incidents and problematic flight passengers have received over $1 million in civil penalties this year alone.

Behavior to Avoid While Flying

While most people are familiar with what kind of conduct is considered inappropriate in a public setting, there are more specific lists of actions that are unacceptable when it comes to being a passenger on an airplane. All companies differ and have their own specific set of guidelines to adhere to, but the following list is a good example of what most airlines would consider disruptive and punishable:

  • Verbal and/or physical fights with other passengers
  • Harassment and assault of a physical or sexual nature
  • Becoming unruly or violent due to alcohol consumption
  • Consuming any illegal drugs on the flight (or immediately beforehand)
  • Refusing to follow lawful instruction from flight crew members such as staying seated or turning off cellular devices when asked
  • Vandalizing or damaging the plane or other airline property

As of the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, many airlines have also enacted facial mask mandates for passengers in response to a federal ruling to help curb the spread of the virus. While this is likely a temporary measure, defying these orders can result in a punishment from the airline you are patronizing. Two passengers were recently labeled “unruly” by the airlines they were flying with and were arrested upon landing in Nashville, TN for refusing to wear a mask, using profanities against crew members, and public intoxication.

Keep a Level Head in Flight

Although most flights run their course without issue, a conflict may arise between passengers or between a passenger and crew member. However, these conflicts will not lead to severe consequences if you make an effort to resolve it before tensions escalate. Here are some tips to avoid trouble if you find yourself in a dispute mid-flight:

  • Follow all instructions from flight crew members to the best of your ability; you risk violation of federal law any time you disobey
  • Do not yell or threaten violence
  • If your issue is with another passenger, escalate the problem to a member of the crew instead of trying to solve it yourself
  • Keep your hands and items to yourself; even a light touch during a dispute can lead to an assault charge

What Are the Consequences?

Airlines deal with unruly passengers in a multitude of ways, some of which have much more severe consequences than others. Over the past 10 years, the Federal Aviation Administration has initiated over 1,300 law enforcement actions against unruly passengers. When it comes to potential crimes committed on a flight, federal and state law often overlap, and even international law can come into play depending on the route taken. This can be complicated to navigate and result in various consequences. If you behave in a disruptive manner on a plane, your repercussions could include but are not limited to:

  • A fine of up to $37,000 per violation
  • Imprisonment
  • Placement on the federal and/or the airline’s “No Fly” list, permanently forbidding you from boarding an airplane that is flying within the United States
  • Should the behavior become disruptive or dangerous enough, diversion of the aircraft to a nearby airport for removal may be necessary

Choosing Legal Counsel

If you have been involved in a conflict during a flight and have been accused of unruly or disruptive behavior, the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella will fight to help you protect not only your record, but also your reputation. With over 20 years of experience behind him, attorney Cherella will provide you with personalized and empathetic representation. Contact him today at (414) 882-8382 or via this link.