Accused unruly passengers face fines and arrests

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A woman was kicked off an Allegiant Air flight and arrested Sunday for refusing to wear a face mask, police said. As she was wheeled down the jetway in Las Vegas, police said, the woman allegedly yelled obscenities and “Let’s go, Brandon” — a euphemism involving the president, reported CBS affiliate KLAS.

Katrina Alspaugh, of Las Vegas, faces one charge of violating airport rules, according to KLAS. Police said Alspaugh had earlier attempted to punch another passenger at the security checkpoint who pointed out Alspaugh was not wearing her mask.

It is one in a stream of incidents of alleged unruly behavior in the skies, and came as the hectic holiday travel season starts. A Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman said Tuesday was the sixth straight day agents screened more than 2 million passengers, the longest stretch of days topping that mark this year. Tuesday’s passenger volume was 91% of its 2019 level, the agency said Wednesday.

The Federal Aviation Administration said this week it had received 5,338 reports of unruly passengers so far this year, 3,856 of which involved masks, and is requesting a total $161,823 in fines against eight passengers for alleged alcohol-related incidents. That brings the total civil penalties against passengers to at least $1.3 million in 2021.

The largest of the fines announced this week, $40,823, stems from an April incident aboard a Southwest Airlines flight from San Jose to San Diego. A passenger allegedly drank their own alcohol during the flight despite being told by a flight attendant it was prohibited, then sexually assaulted the flight attendant and smoked marijuana in the bathroom, according to a news release. 

A passenger on a March flight from Fort Meyers, Florida, to Detroit that was diverted to Atlanta is accused of repeatedly taking off his face mask after crew members told him to keep it on, swearing at other passengers and accusing them of stealing, and appeared to be intoxicated, according to the release.

“This is America. This is free speech. What don’t you understand?” he allegedly yelled at a crew member.

Other civil fines proposed by the agency include: $17,000 against a passenger accused of drinking alcohol the airline did not serve him, urinating on the bathroom floor and refusing to wear a face mask; $16,000 against a passenger accused of drinking her own mini bottles of alcohol on the flight and pulling down her mask to yell at a flight attendant who approached her about it; and $8,250 against a passenger accused of drinking and passing around his own bottle of vodka to three other passengers and becoming “loud, argumentative and rude” after a crew member asked him to hand over the bottle.

As of Tuesday, the agency has received nearly 300 reports of passenger disturbances due to alcohol and intoxication since the beginning of the year. The agency had asked airports in August to limit “to-go” cups of alcohol.

Passengers who face civil fines from the FAA have 30 days to respond, and may also face local or federal charges. But the agency can’t prosecute offenders — that’s up to local and federal authorities.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday he would direct U.S. attorneys to prioritize prosecution of federal crimes occurring on aircraft, which include assaults, intimidation and threats of violence that interfere with flight crews and flight attendants.

“Passengers who assault, intimidate or threaten violence against flight crews and flight attendants do more than harm those employees; they prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel,” said Garland. “Similarly, when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the close confines of a commercial aircraft, the conduct endangers everyone aboard.”

The FAA and the Justice Department have already started sharing information about criminal conduct on commercial flights, according to Garland’s announcement. The FAA has already referred 37 incidents to the FBI for investigation, said administrator Steve Dickson.

Kathryn Krupnik and Andres Triay contributed to this report.

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National News | Transportation News

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