Face Masks Rulings Tighten Travel Safety

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The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) zero tolerance policy on disruptive passengers backs up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) ruling on face masks earlier this year.

Following the CDC order in January requiring the wearing of face masks by travelers to prevent spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, the FAA has announced that it will extend a zero tolerance policy toward disruptive airline passengers for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FAA warned that disruptive passengers could face fines up to $35,000 as well as possible jail time for offenses, including refusal to wear face masks as mandated by the CDC rule. The agency would no longer issue warning letters or negotiate penalties, but would immediately impose substantial fines and could refer cases to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, which could seek sentences of up to 20 years for flight offenses.

“The policy directs our safety inspectors and attorneys to take strong enforcement action against any passenger who disrupts or threatens the safety of a flight, with penalties ranging from fines to jail time,” said Steve Dickson, FAA administrator, in a press release statement. “The number of cases we’re seeing is still far too high, and it tells us urgent action continues to be required.”

As a result, a JetBlue passenger who repeatedly refused to wear a face mask on a flight from Boston to Puerto Rico is facing a proposed $20,000 fine for the offense. A Delta passenger who refused to wear a face mask on a flight from Miami to Atlanta, and allegedly struck a flight attendant when instructed to leave the plane, is facing a $27,500 fine.

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