President Biden Demands Respect From Airline Passengers

President Biden has issued an order telling the TSA to double fines for passengers refusing to wear masks on planes and other forms of transportation. This is purely symbolic, because fines – which start at $250 for a first offence – are rarely imposed let alone paid.

The President demanded that air travelers show some respect and that this is the reason for the increased fines.

Why is disrespect of flight attendants top of mind for Biden? Look who was bending his ear on Wednesday: flight attendants union head Sara Nelson, seen as a potential next head of the AFL-CIO.

“Respect” may be desirable, though it’s a matter of social norm and custom and views on respect will differ. Should government be in the business of mandating respect rather than simply mandating civility – you can’t assault someone but do you have to respect them or risk government fines?
Is something even a matter of respect, if it’s mandated by law? Isn’t respect something that has to be freely offered? If someone is wearing a mask because it’s required, to avoid penalties, aren’t they doing it for a reason other than respect (such as fear or self-interest)?

Nearly a year ago I explained that we were going to see more conflict on planes over masks as people gained immunity from vaccination and natural infection yet were still required to wear masks. That’s happened, in spades. And it’s stupid.

Decent masks properly work show some effectiveness against Covid-19 spread but the transportation mask mandate simply duplicated airline policies already in place while allowing more exceptions, prevents airlines from requiring better masks as some European carriers do, and has a legal basis that’s questionable at best.

Doubling proposed fines is purely symbolic and will not change anything. These fines are rarely ever imposed, let alone paid. Here’s the data available as of six weeks ago:

  • 2,413 mask non-compliance incidents had been reported to TSA
  • TSA then has to investigate the complaint – they’ve completed 1793 investigations.
  • Most investigations result in a warning, not a fine – the TSA has issued 1,690 warnings.
  • Just 38 cases have been referred for penalties.
  • And only two people have agreed to pay the fines, the others have challenged the fines.

Only 1.5% of incidents that turned into a report to the FAA actually resulted in a fine being requested, and only 5% of those actually paid up their $250, for a likely total of $500. Using this data and projecting forward, the federal government might collect an extra $500 by early 2022.

The federal government requires masks in airports and on planes, of course, because these are among the few places they’ve been able to come up with a legal theory they can stretch to allow masking rules – not because spread is more likely there than in crowded restaurants, bars or gyms.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. “Sara” Nelson? She looks more like a “Karen” Nelson.
    “Let me speak with your president!!”

  2. Don’t want to wear a mask? Don’t get on a plane. Don’t take it out on airline employees. They’re doing their jobs.

    Watching grown adults act like three year old has gotten really tiring.

  3. This is a misleading title. Biden is not demanding respect, he’s demanding that passengers respect flight attendants

  4. @BC – totally agreed. And feeding that problem is this blog, which continues to write about grown adults acting like three-year olds on airplanes and in airports

  5. The government is not “mandating respect.” Biden asked people to not be a-holes to flight attendants, but that’s no more of a mandate than if I said it.

  6. When the President demands respect, you have to question why he has no respect in the first place.

  7. Love how everyone is demanding respect for flight attendants but no one is demanding respect for passengers from airline employees. If you don’t like your job, quit.

  8. Since we’re to the point where the president can unilaterally dictate law to the rest of us, why not mandate that the trains must run on time? Worked for Mussolini, who was obviously better at this than the wokester regime who now occupies the White House.

  9. What a jerk – president- and what a bitch – Sara. The minute they show “respect” to the public is the minute the public will show respect to them. The airlines have brought this all on themselves and they deserve all of the problems they’ve created. I have no sympathy for any airline employee.

  10. Wow! Who knew that they main reason for Delta spreading in the USA was the low fines for unmasked passengers in airports and on airplanes. I hope that these new fines will be instituted immediately so the Delta cases will plunge next week or so. Why such a simple but, obviously, highly effective and much needed measure was not introduced back in July?

  11. Just make a mandate to be vaccinated in order to fly. The masks can drop and people will be able to get one with their lives versus being held back by those refusing to do the right thing. No vaccine – no fly. You can’t smoke on a plane and spread second-hand smoke so why should be people be able to spread second-hand covid.

  12. Joe biden didn’t go far enough yesterday. He should have done a few more things. Ban all domestic flights and all international travel.
    2 put country on 1 month total lock down
    3 make all un vacated wear some kind of ID on the outer most clothing so normal people know who the evil ones are

  13. I call BS. Do like the IRS does. SLAP them with the fine. Send them with a bill. Give them 90 days to pay. Tell them you are going to seize their bank account if they do not pay. Take their tax refunds and pull the funds from their bank account (we know where the accounts are and we know where they work). If they want to appeal it let them pay the fine first and file an appeal to get a refund.

    And if they want to talk to someone about this they can call. Like the IRS which is only answering 7% of its calls, is taking 4 months to issue refunds and is NOT responding to letters they will get a response in 2025.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *