The Real Cost of Bad Airplane Behavior

What kind of poetic justice can we get when someone’s selfish actions result in our flight being delayed, diverted, or even grounded?

Illustration of a row of three seated passengers on a plane

Using both arm rests, keeping the window shade up, snoring—these can all be considered bad airplane behavior. But what can actually get you punished?

Courtesy of Shutterstock

Picture it: You battled your way through summer holiday traffic going to the airport, and waited in what felt like the world’s longest security line, only to have your flight diverted two hours in, resulting in your flight reaching its destination three hours later than planned?

How upset would you be to find that the reason was because a drunk and unruly business-class passenger pitched a fit over their preferred meal not being offered?

That’s exactly what happened to passengers on an United Airlines flight heading from Houston to Amsterdam in July.

Passengers who cause flight delays or groundings can be fined by airlines seeking restitution for the costs of these diversions; they may even face criminal charges. ABC News reports that in the United States, fines levied by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could be as much as $37,000 per violation.

Unfortunately, it’s usually not the perpetrators who end up paying for their transgressions. More often than not, it’s the airlines, airports, and other passengers who suffer most. There’s no word yet if the United passenger will face criminal charges for their sky-high temper tantrum.

While we wait for some justice from this outrageous incident, we’ve pulled together some recent crimes—from the ridiculous to the dangerous—and their punishments, to get a better idea of how much your bad behavior can really cost you.

The passenger who opened an airplane door

  • Airline: Asiana Airlines
  • Punishment: Arrested upon landing, possibility of 10 years in prison

Earlier this summer, a passenger on an Asiana Airline flight seemed to defy physics: They opened a door mid-flight. The passenger opened the emergency door just before landing and told police it was because he felt suffocated. It resulted in 12 people suffering minor injuries from hyperventilation (nine of them were sent to the hospital). The passenger now faces a possible 10 years in prison.

The passenger who threatened a flight attendant

  • Airline: Alaska Airlines
  • Punishment: Arrested on a felony charge of interference with a flight attendant, now faces a potential maximum penalty of 20 years in prison

Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been an increase in violent passengers. In April 2023, for example, a woman on an Alaska Airlines flight from San Francisco to Chicago yelled profanities and threatened to kill a flight attendant. According to charging documents, the issue began because the woman, Chloe M. DaSilva, asked to change seats but was told that wasn’t possible as the plane was full. She then went into the lavatory for an extended time and banged on the walls. As she returned to her seat, she punched the overhead bins. At some point later, she threatened the flight attendant. Her antics forced the pilot to divert to Kansas City, where the passenger was removed from the plane. She now faces a potential 20 years in prison.

The farter

  • Airline: Transavia Airlines
  • Punishment: Removed from the flight, banned from the airline

In a truly bizzare incident, a Transavia Airlines flight from Dubai to Amsterdam was grounded in Feburary 2018 because of a man who unapologetically passed gas through the entire flight. His actions resulted in a fight with the passengers seated beside him. The plane was diverted to Vienna and police removed the farter, the man he was fighting with, and—inexplicably—two women seated in the same aisle who were apparently uninvolved. All four passengers are now banned from the low-cost airline.

The woman who yelled at a baby

  • Airline: Delta Airlines
  • Punishment: Removed from flight, lost her job

Susan Peirez, who yelled at a 19-year-old mother and her baby on a Delta Airlines flight on February 6, 2019, was not only escorted off the plane, but she also lost her job at the New York State Council on the Arts. Peirez was intially using obscenities while complaining about being seated in the back of the flight when Marissa Rundell asked her to stop using such language in front of her eight-month-old son. Peirez told Rundell to shut up, and shortly after, Rundell started recording a video of the incident. The situation escalated, with Peirez asking to sit farther from the baby and threatening to have the flight attendant fired, before she was removed from the plane. Rundell shared the video with her family, but it soon went viral and Peirez’s employers saw it.

A cat in silhouette beside a plane window

Many people try to sneak animals onto airplanes to avoid paying pet fees.

Courtesy of Shutterstock

The man who snuck his chubby cat onto his flight

  • Airline: Aeroflot
  • Punishment: Loss of frequent flier status and 400,000 miles

On November 5, 2019, Mikhail Galin tricked Russian airline Aeroflot to subvert the carrier’s pet policies. At 22 pounds, Viktor the cat was too heavy to fly in the cabin, but Galin didn’t want his furry friend to have to ride in the cargo hold, so he pulled a bait and switch, finding a skinnier look-alike for the weigh-in. And he would have gotten away with it too, except that Galin couldn’t resist posting photos on social media. Aeroflot saw the post and removed Galin from its frequent flier program, wiping out the nearly 400,000 miles the jet-setter had accumulated. Galin, who learned about his punishment through news reports, has a lighthearted attitude about the whole thing, acknowledging the wrongdoing but not repenting.

The couple that joined the Mile High Club

  • Airline: United Airlines
  • Punishment: $500

Enrique Gonzales was fined $500 for performing a sexual act on a United flight to San Antonio on Feburary 3, 2019. It’s the maximum fine for the criminal offense of having sex in public, but Gonzales did escape a possible 90-day jail sentence. A couple from 2017 faced felony charges for a similar indiscretion (though it is not clear whether they were ever actually charged). Gonzales, who was arrested when the plane landed and had to pay a $1,000 bail, apologized, calling it a one-time mistake. His wife was not charged.

A man caught vaping on a flight tried to claim he didn’t realize that smoking is prohibited on flights.

A man caught vaping on a flight tried to claim he didn’t realize that smoking is prohibited on flights.

Courtesy of Shutterstock

The man who vaped on a plane

  • Airline: Spirit
  • Punishment: Lifetime ban

During a Spirit Airlines flight from Detroit to New Orleans on June 4, 2019, a passenger took a smoke break in the plane’s bathroom and ended up being banned from the airline for life. Initially, he had attempted to smoke in the cabin, taking a drag from his e-cigarette and exhaling into a bag. When a flight attendant saw him and admonished him, he retreated to the bathroom, where he set off the smoke alarm. The man won’t face criminal charges—once on the ground, he was cooperative with the local sheriff’s department. But get this: He said he didn’t realize that smoking isn’t allowed on flights.

The belligerent drunk

  • Airline: Hawaiian Airlines
  • Punishment: $97,817 and three months’ probation

In November of 2016, James August’s disruptive behavior forced his nonstop flight to New York to return to Honolulu to remove him, reports the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Not only did August threaten his girlfriend, her children, other passengers, and crew members, but he also smacked a flight attendant on her shoulder with the back of his hand. He had been drinking both before and during the flight, according to an affadavit, and became increasingly aggressive. August pled guilty to interfering with a flight crew, admitting to the judge that he doesn’t remember much of what happened. His $97,817 fine covered the fuel, maintenance, and crew costs of the diverted flight, as well as the money the airline lost rebooking passengers on other airlines. It did not, however, cover the $46,900 worth of meal vouchers the carrier handed out to the delayed passengers.

The dangerously aggressive woman

  • Airline: Jet2
  • Punishment: $106,000 and a lifetime ban

On a Jet2 flight to Turkey in June of 2019, 25-year-old Chloe Haines became so alarmingly disruptive that her behavior triggered a hijack alert, and two fighter jets from the Royal Air Force were called to escort the plane back to Stansted Airport for an emergency landing. About 45 minutes after takeoff, the woman reportedly became aggressive and abusive, tried to open the plane’s emergency exit, and physically lashed out at flight attendants, according to a statement released by the airline. Jet2 has demanded she pay about $106,000 to cover the costs that resulted from the rerouting.

This article was originally published in 2022 and most recently updated on September 25, 2023 with current information.

Maggie Fuller is a San Francisco–based but globally oriented writer driven to provoke multicultural worldviews as a multimedia journalist. She covers sustainability, responsible travel, and outdoor adventure.
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