American Airlines passenger faces over $80K in civil penalties for hitting, spitting crew

The Federal Aviation Administration is suing a Texas woman for $81,950 in civil penalties for violent behavior, including hitting and spitting on a flight attendant onboard an American Airlines flight three years ago.

Heather Wells, who was identified a the disruptive passenger, was seated in business class on flight AA 1774, an approximately two-and-a-half-hour flight from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to Charlotte Douglas International Airport in early July 2021, according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on June 3.

About an hour into the flight, Wells ordered an alcoholic beverage and became “increasingly agitated and ‘wanted out’ of the plane,” the complaint said. She got out of her seat and started running toward the back of the plane before falling to her knees. “She remained there shortly, talking incoherently to passengers, before crawling back toward the main cabin,” the complaint stated.

A flight attendant approached Wells, who became “verbally aggressive” and threatened to “hurt him.” She then pushed the crew member.

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Wells went back to the front of the aircraft and tried to open the front cabin door “while screaming and yelling profanities.”

Two crew members and another passenger physically restrained Wells, and during the altercation, she hit a flight attendant multiple times in the head.

She was restrained to her seat with duct tape and flex cuffs but “continued to kick and spit and attempted to bite and head-butt a flight attendant and passengers.” In an effort to contain Wells, tape was placed over her mouth.

Since the flight was short, the captain decided to continue to Charlotte instead of diverting. Law enforcement was called to meet the plane upon arrival.

Once landed and while the plane was still taxiing, Wells broke her feet free from the restraints and was kicking violently – later breaking the seat in front of her. She continued to yell profanities.

American Airlines did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.

Once all passengers deplaned, Wells was sedated to be removed from the aircraft.

Wells is being charged civil penalties up to $45,000 for assaulting and threatening crew members and posing “an imminent threat to the safety of the aircraft and other individuals on the aircraft,” $27,950 for attempting to open the cabin door in-flight and $9,000 for interfering with the crew member’s duties.

On Wednesday, the FAA released a statement saying the agency is cracking down on unruly passengers this summer as cases continue to rise. “Travelers will pay for misbehaving,” the agency said, adding that it will pursue legal enforcement.

So far, there have been 915 reported cases of unruly passengers, with 106 related to intoxication.

Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Hawaii. You can reach her at

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: FAA sues American Airlines passenger $81,950 for violent behavior