What Happens If You Disobey a Flight Attendant? - Law and Daily Life

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What Happens If You Disobey a Flight Attendant?

Remember when Alec Baldwin was kicked off a flight for refusing to "power down" his cell phone because he was busy playing "Words With Friends"?

From refusing to "power down" to dressing scantily, passengers regularly get booted for giving the cold shoulder to flight attendants' orders.

But legally speaking, what can happen when you disobey a flight attendant?

Potential Criminal Consequences

Federal law prohibits passengers from interfering or physically assaulting (or threatening to physically assault) airline crewmembers.

This means injuring or intimidating a crewmember -- or attempting to do so -- can result in a felony conviction if the defendant has interfered with the performance of the crewmember's duties.

Using a dangerous weapon -- basically, any object that can cause death or serious bodily injury -- will result in even harsher penalties.

Apart from assault, a passenger who gets in the way of a crewmember's ability to perform his or her job can be fined by the Federal Aviation Administration or even prosecuted on criminal charges, depending on the severity of the interference.

Flight crew interference incidents can result in up to 20 years' imprisonment and fines of up to $250,000, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Potential Civil Consequences

Acts of interference that don't quite rise to the level of criminal conduct can still warrant hefty fines by the FAA.

In fact, the FAA can propose up to $25,000 per violation for unruly passenger cases. One incident can result in multiple violations, according to the FAA's website.

A slew of disruptive behaviors can be considered interference, including:

  • Flashing a laser beam from the ground;
  • Physically blocking crewmembers' access in the aisle or galley;
  • Threatening a crewmember; and
  • Disobeying crewmembers' repeated requests (see Alec Baldwin).

This list is by no means exhaustive. As a general rule of thumb, if the conduct is offensive or disruptive and distracts the crew, it may be considered actionable interference.

The repercussions for passengers who engage in unruly behavior can be substantial, so if an attendant instructs you to do something, you'd best listen up. Otherwise, your next destination could potentially be a jail cell, a courtroom, or the office of an experienced criminal defense lawyer near you.

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