The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has hit two anti-masker airline passengers with proposed fines totalling $22,500 following disputes involving the wearing of masks that resulted in flight attendants allegedly being assaulted. It’s believed to be the first time the FAA has supported airline enforcement of strict face mask policies that they introduced to protect passengers from the risk of COVID-19.
Throughout the pandemic, the FAA has itself refused to introduce a mandatory face mask policy onboard U.S. registered airplanes and individual airlines have instead been forced to make up their own rules that are backed up with the threat of being barred from future travel.
In two recent cases, however, the FAA has proposed civil penalties of $15,000 and $7,500, respectively, against two airline passengers who allegedly interfered with and went onto assault flight attendants who had instructed them to wear face coverings.
The first case involves an Allegiant Air flight from Clearwater to Mascoutah in August where a passenger allegedly “repeatedly screamed obscenities at and hit a flight attendant” because of a dispute over wearing a face mask.
When the flight attendant called the Captain on the interphone, the passenger grabbed the handset from their grip the FAA alleged. As a result of the passenger’s behavior, the Captain diverted the flight.
In the second case, which also occurred in August, a passenger on a Skywest flight from Atlanta to Chicago removed their mask and repeatedly bothered other passengers. At one point, the FAA claims the passenger grabbed a flight attendant’s buttock as she walked past.
“While the 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,” the FAA said in a statement on Friday in what appears to be strong support for airline face mask rules.
“Passengers are subject to civil penalties for such misconduct, which can threaten the safety of the flight by disrupting or distracting cabin crew from their safety duties,” the statement continued.
“Additionally, federal law provides for criminal fines and imprisonment of passengers who interfere with the performance of a crewmember’s duties by assaulting or intimidating that crewmember.”
The criminal offence of assaulting a crewmember is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, while the lesser crime of crewmember interference can attract a maximum civil penalty of $25,000.
Both of the accused passengers have 30 days to respond to the FAA and can request a hearing before a federal Administrative Law Judge to challenge the proposed penalty.
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.