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).