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Unruly passenger allegedly sexually assaulted flight attendant before smoking joint in bathroom

Nov 24, 2021
The incident occurred last April during a Southwest Airlines flight from San Jose to San Diego, Calif., a flight that usually takes less than an hour and 20 minutes. But liquor service ...

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In yet another case of passengers behaving badly, the actions of a customer who allegedly sexually assaulted a flight attendant and smoked weed in the bathroom were deemed sufficiently beyond the pale that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a US$40,823 ($51,845) fine.

The incident occurred last April during a Southwest Airlines flight from San Jose to San Diego, Calif., a flight that usually takes less than an hour and 20 minutes.

But liquor service status last spring had little bearing on the Southwest passenger; the FAA alleged the person simply brought their own booze. Despite being informed by a flight attendant that bringing alcohol onboard was against the rules, the passenger still continued to drink.

While some airlines are now allowing alcohol to be served on flights, USA Today reports that both Southwest Airlines and American Airlines have grounded inflight booze service until some time next year.

The decision was, at least in part, the result of an increase in unruly, sometimes violent, incidents by passengers against flight staff, The New York Times reports. FAA Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order this past January “directing a stricter legal enforcement policy against unruly airline passengers in the wake of recent, troubling incidents.”

After being told he could not drink onboard, the Southwest “passenger then sexually assaulted the flight attendant,” the FAA reports.

“Federal law prohibits interfering with aircraft crew or physically assaulting or threatening to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft,” the agency notes. Additionally, “federal law provides for criminal fines and imprisonment of passengers who interfere with the performance of a crew member’s duties by assaulting or intimidating that crew member.”

Still, breaking the alcohol ban and reportedly assaulting the attendant apparently wasn’t enough. The passenger reportedly opted to top up the alcohol intake with a bit of weed, deciding to smoke a joint inside the washroom as the plane “was descending into San Diego.”

That was more than enough for members of the flight crew, who “asked for law enforcement to meet the plane at the arrival gate.”

DYK it's illegal to consume alcohol aboard a flight that is not served by flight attendants? As part of the FAA's Zero Tolerance policy, we've proposed $161,000 in fines against 8 airline passengers for dangerous behavior involving alcohol. Learn more at https://t.co/srCDhFlhzC. pic.twitter.com/M4M9GinROE

— The FAA ✈️ (@FAANews) November 22, 2021

The meet and greet didn’t go over well for the passenger, who was then arrested for resisting arrest and public intoxication.

Fines relating to smoking cannabis on a plane appear to be a bit of an outlier. Of the FAA press releases dealing with unruly passenger fines since late May — the agency has seven posted on its site — weed was not cited any another time.

The latest press release this week offers seven other examples of bad behaviour among air travel passengers. These included impairment-related examples like the man who drank alcohol he wasn’t served, urinated on the lavatory floor, verbally abused the flight crew and refused to wear a facemask, necessitating that the flight is diverted to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

There was also the man who, during a stop in Nashville, consumed his own alcohol after mixing it in a soft drink. After being warned by both a flight attendant and an operations agent, he agreed to wear his mask and not drink his alcohol, but ended up doing so anyway, which he mixed in the washroom. “Flight attendants subsequently found multiple empty mini alcohol bottles belonging to him,” the FAA reports.

Passengers have 30 days after receiving the FAA’s enforcement letter to respond, the FAA adds.

“Since Jan. 1, 2021, the FAA has received nearly 300 reports of passenger disturbances due to alcohol and intoxication,” the agency notes.

In September, the FAA reported that the rate of unruly passenger incidents on commercial flights had dropped sharply it adopted its Zero Tolerance campaign. That said, the rate still “remains too high,” meaning the agency will continue its current policy “and keep pushing and partnering with everyone in the aviation system to do more,” Dickson says in a statement.

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