There’s No Federal Mask Mandate, But The FAA Is Fining Two Airline Passengers Anyway

There’s no federal mask mandate. All U.S. airlines require passengers to wear masks. So most people assume that the only penalties for non-compliance are imposed by airlines. That’s not true.

Airlines only impose penalties, other than asking a passenger not to fly, when enforcing mask rules leads to an altercation. But when an altercation occurs, the FAA can impose penalties too. In other words, you don’t need a federal mask mandate to punish passengers for bad behavior.

The FAA has now proposed to fine two anti-maskers in amounts of $15,000 and $7500.

  • $15,000 fine for anti-masker screaming obscenities. The Allegiant passenger flying from Clearwater to Mascoutah, Illinois in August “repeatedly screamed obscenities at and hit a flight attendant, and grabbed the phone from the flight attendant while he was speaking with the captain about the passenger’s behavior over a face-covering dispute, the FAA alleges.” The flight diverted.

    Can an Allegiant passenger come up with $15,000? And if they could would they be flying Allegiant? (In fact people often choose Allegiant because of their unique routes and schedules, flying places like Mesa – Pasco and… Clearwater – Mascoutah.)

  • $7500 fine after anti-masker grabbed a flight attendant’s buttocks. The FAA identifies the passenger on an August Atlanta – Chicago flight as traveling on SkyWest, though based on schedules it appears the regional carrier was operating as United Express. They “”continually bothered other passengers and, at one point, grabbed a flight attendant’s buttock as she walked by the passenger’s row of seats” according to the FAA.

As the FAA explains, “failure to wear a face covering is not itself a federal violation, federal law prohibits physically assaulting or threatening to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft.” Law enforcement agencies can file criminal charges, a separate matter from these FAA proposed fines.

All U.S. airlines have face mask requirements. Those who won’t comply are frequently asked not to fly. If the rule is enforced, a passenger is asked not to board – or to leave – the aircraft. And of course mask policies aren’t always enforced.

If passengers cause an uproar after refusing airline requests to wear a mask (the airline will often even provide one), the carrier may ban them from future travel (at least as long as the mask requirement persists). And the FAA can fine them, not for the mask per se but for the disruptive behavior.

In other words the way things work now is likely exactly how they will work once President-elect Biden’s promised federal transportation mask mandate is implemented, except that government mask guidelines may push airlines to alter the specifics of their own rules – perhaps watering them down (if the government doesn’t require masks for two year olds, for instance).

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 »

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  1. So, one was fined for hitting a flight attendant and the other for grabbing a FA’s buttocks. Whether they did or didn’t wear a mask seems inconsequential and makes this story seem like clickbait.

  2. I can come up with $15,000 and live near BLV but…I also wouldn’t end up in the same situation I don’t think. Although there was that AA PHL gate agent a couple of years ago that almost made me go that crazy on him. I digress. I know the average Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier income demographic might be lower than average it doesn’t mean that it’s all poor people on those planes.

  3. Gary Leffty had to use an almost 6 Month old picture to take a jab at a republican. This is the CNN of air travel blogs. Gary let’s his bias run strong.

  4. @Jase – Pretty strange to call a joke an ideology, or to suggest I’m a ‘lefty.’ I just thought it was a mildly amusing juxtaposition. Triggered easily!

  5. @Gary – You are delirious if you really believe your left of center view point does not come out in almost all articles that relate to politics. I am sure liberals will jump in to defend you but I think a lot of people would appreciate if a travel blog was not so constantly one sided. I am not speaking of this article in particular.

  6. @Mike here’s what you’re missing. It’s not that I think ‘my left of center viewpoint doesn’t come out in blog posts’ it’s that I’m not left of center. Google me.

    Oh and by the way here I am *with* Ted Cruz 😛

  7. Maybe that picture is just Gary wearing a Ted Cruz Mask. Therefore Gary was both mask compliant and NOT Ted Cruz! 😉

  8. @Gary – I took your suggestion and googled you. I didn’t find much other than your comment below that implies you voted for Hillary in 2016 and Biden in 2020 or possibly didn’t vote at all which I doubt.

    I respect that and not saying anything is wrong with it but If what you say is true, you have some next level double agent skills going on :).

    Gary Leff says:
    August 28, 2020 at 5:57 am
    What a silly statement @GUWonder. Because I haven’t publicly declared my votes on this blog I’m therefore enabling Trump? I will not vote for Trump (and did not vote for Trump in 2016).

  9. Señor Leff may be some things, but he’s certainly no lefty. Señor Leff had been riding on the Koch brothers’ money as a right of center libertarian of sorts for years upon years and never surrendered his affiliation for Republican AEI types.

    Leff’s dislike for the TSA from
    early on was rooted in his opposition to the “we must federalize to professionalize” airport security screeners. That “federalize to professionalize” approach to airport security screening was the pet project of a certain Democratic US Senator called Tom Daschle.

    The idea of Gary being a lefty is about as ludicrous as the idea of me being a Trump apologist.

  10. @GUWonder “never surrendered his affiliation for Republican AEI types” what affiliation is that exactly?

    “Leff’s dislike for the TSA from early on was rooted in his opposition to the “we must federalize to professionalize” airport security screeners. ” False.

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