Flight Turned Around When Passenger Refuses to Wear Face Mask

Ralph Ellis

January 21, 2022

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

An American Airlines flight that left Miami and headed to London was turned around an hour into its journey on Wednesday because a passenger refused to wear a mask.

When flight AAL38 returned to Miami International Airport, police officers escorted a woman off the plane, said a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Police Department. USA Today reported that no charges were filed, but the woman was placed on a no-fly list

American Airlines spokesperson Curtis Blessing said the flight was turned around "due to a disruptive customer refusing to comply with the federal mask requirement," USA Today reported. It was unclear if the Federal Aviation Administration would initiate an enforcement action against her.

Passengers were scheduled on later flights. The original flight had 129 passengers, plus 14 crew members.

Since January 2021, the Transportation Security Administration has required passengers on commercial airplanes, over-the-road and commuter buses, and rail systems to wear face masks. The rule has been extended until March 18.

The rule has caused increasing friction on flights, with the FAA reporting 151 incidents of unruly passengers this calendar year, including 92 incidents caused by face masks. Thirty-two investigations were initiated and four enforcement actions started.

Last year, 5,981 reports of unruly passengers were sent to the FAA, including 4,290 incidents related to face masks. The FAA initiated 1,081 investigations and 350 enforcement actions.

The FAA cannot prosecute criminal cases but has the authority to impose fines of up to $37,000 for unruly passengers.

As an example, USA Today said a woman was fined $32,000 for actions during a May 18, 2021, Horizon Air flight from Austin, Texas, to San Francisco. The women refused to follow instructions to fasten her seatbelt, punched her husband and son, threw trash at a flight attendant, and took cookies from another passenger, USA Today said, citing information from the FAA.

Another case involved a Southwest Airlines passenger who tried to enter the cockpit and punched a flight attendant on a May 5, 2021, flight from New York to Chicago. That passenger was fined $26,786, USA Today reported.

Sources

USA Today: "Woman refuses mask on flight to London. So, the pilot took her back to Florida." "These 'unruly' passengers spit, punched and kicked at airline crew members. Now, they face hefty fines."

FAA: "Unruly passengers." "2021 Unruly Passenger Data."

TSA: "TSA to implement Executive Order regarding face masks at airport security checkpoints and throughout the transportation network." "TSA extends face mask requirement through March 18, 2022."

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