At least 353 airline passengers have been banned from flying for refusing to wear a face mask amidst recently reinforced rules that can result in passengers being added to a ‘no-fly’ list for failing to comply with strict face mask rules. The latest figures from five major U.S. airlines also reveals just one carrier is responsible for nearly half of all of those bans and that airline is Delta.
So far, the Atlanta-based carrier has banned around 150 passengers for failing to wear an approved face mask or covering on its flights (Delta recently banned face masks that feature an exhaust valve). Frequent flyer status won’t cut you any slack either – one customer had flown two million miles with Delta before being indefinitely grounded.
In second place on the list of airlines most likely to ban passengers for not wearing a face mask is United which has told at least 100 passengers they are no longer welcome to fly with the carrier.
Frontier Airlines has added 65 passengers to its ‘no-fly’ list and Alaska Airlines, meanwhile, says it has banned around 37 passengers. Allegiant, however, is said to have banned just one passenger so far – which would suggest a high level of compliance amongst Allegiant’s passengers or a lack of enforcement.
American Airlines did not provide data but has been open about banning passengers for non-compliance with its face mask rules.
The strengthened rules were introduced in June after a significant minority of passengers openly flouted the requirement to cover-up or fraudulently claimed to have a medical exemption. The behavior of some passengers has so enraged the likes of American and United that they now tell anyone with a genuine medical reason for not wearing a face mask to stay at home rather than attempting to fly with them.
In contrast, Delta tells passengers who have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask to turn up to the airport early for a virtual consultation with an in-house doctor. Only once the passenger has received approval from a physician will they be cleared to fly without a mask.
There are, though, still ways that some passengers are trying to circumvent the rules. Some airlines require multiple violations of the policy before slapping a passenger with a travel ban – a loophole that Alaska has sought to close by taking swift action as soon as a breach is detected by cancelling any onward or return flights with immediate effect.
Other passengers, meanwhile, have been caught nursing a glass of water for hours at a time because airlines still offer an exemption if you wish to eat or drink. And even if someone is banned from an airline, there’s currently no data sharing so they’re free to try their luck with a rival carrier.
Airlines couldn’t make it clearer – face masks need to be worn onboard. If you are banned, you could face a lengthy wait before being able to fly again. The bans will last at least as long as the requirement to wear a face mask onboard remains in force and all signs are pointing to those rules not going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.