When flight diversions for unruly passengers occur, we all take notice. If they are Hawaii-related, even more so. Beyond that, and the enormous fines that can now be levied on offenders, we hadn’t given it much further thought. But these two Hawaii flight diversions caused us to pause. Especially with the Zero Tolerance Policy announced by the FAA in April for unruly passengers.
Two things to note here are that interfering with a crew member, which includes not following instructions to sit down, return to your seat, or turn off an electronic device, can result in civil penalties and fines up to $25,000. While assaulting a crew member is a felony and carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000. And if a dangerous weapon is used a passenger can be sentenced to life. These are serious issues, so keeping cool at 30,000 feet is important to everyone.
That means keeping your voice down and don’t lose your temper, if you have an issue with a flight attendant, ask to speak to the first officer, never touch a crew member, and do what you’re asked.
As one flight attendant said, “You can’t call 911 at 38,000 feet, so we’re all you got. If we’re all you got, shouldn’t you be nice to us?”
What happened on these two Hawaii flights this week?
On Wednesday, a Hawaiian Airlines passenger, en route from New York to Honolulu, is said to have attempted to breach the Airbus A330 cockpit. The flight continued on to Honolulu, where it was met by law enforcement. The passenger, who had been restrained during the flight, however, was, in the end, not detained by authorities. There’s been no further word from Hawaiian Airlines about the incident. Also, the plane didn’t divert, because it was already nearing Hawaii.
Just one day prior, another unruly passenger incident resulted in a flight diversion to Honolulu. Tuesday, United Airlines 33, a Boeing Dreamliner, which was traveling to Los Angeles from Tokyo, arrived in Honolulu, again due to a reported disruptive passenger who became physically abusive (we’re not sure towards whom). The passenger was retained in flight using zip ties. While law enforcement met the aircraft at the arrival gate, we were told that the passenger wasn’t detained. The other passengers were accommodated in Honolulu and their flight continued to Los Angeles the following day after a mandatory crew rest period.
While they weren’t detained, based on the FAA’s zero tolerance policy, we doubt they left the airport with a clean slate and that fines and a possible trial will happen later.
Recent Hawaii unruly passengers, flight diversion and fines.
In September, a Hawaiian Air flight returned to Honolulu after a disruptive passenger physically assaulted a flight attendant on the 730AM interisland flight to Hilo.
Hawaiian said that “Soon after departure, a passenger assaulted one of our flight attendants, who was walking the aisle, in an unprovoked incident.” The flight attendant was collecting trash and was attacked without having had any interaction with the individual.
In that situation, the passenger was detained by law enforcement and the case was referred to federal authorities. U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, called what happened “reprehensible… There should be zero tolerance for this kind of despicable attack.”
In another previous Hawaii flight disturbance, a Delta Airlines flight attendant was attacked en route from Honolulu to Seattle. In that case, a federal grand jury last December indicted Ryan Cajimat, age 21, of Kapolei, on two federal crimes.
In the Delta incident, about two hours before landing, Cajimat also tried to open the cockpit door and fought with flight attendants who tried to restrain him. One was punched twice in the face. The FAA issued an initial $52,500 fine and the airline banned him for life.
The FAA said that “Interference is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Assault on an aircraft is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.”
Over 1,500 Flight disruptions this year, but only 80 criminal referrals.
The FAA said that as of June 14, there have been 1,516 reports of unruly passengers on flights in the U.S. this year alone.
The FAA says “dangerous behavior doesn’t fly.” What does that mean? Of the 1,516 unruly passenger incidents so far this year, the FAA has initiated investigations in 512 cases, and enforcement in 305 cases. But of those, just 80 have been referred to the FBI seeking criminal prosecution.
Interfering with a flight crew is a violation of federal law.
The FAA has only civil authority in these matters, which permits it to impose fines, such as the $52,000 one above. It doesn’t, however, have authority for criminal prosecution. Those must be referred to the FBI, for example, while security violations fall under the jurisdiction of the TSA.