Some airlines appear eager to let bygones be bygones with anti-maskers who refused to comply with the pandemic masking requirement. Within days of a federal judge striking down the federal mask mandate for public transportation, three major U.S. airlines — Alaska Air, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines — now say they are open to reinstating flying privileges to thousands of customers who had been banned for refusing to comply with the mask requirement.
But other carriers seem less inclined to forgive and forget quite yet. “Southwest banned the passengers for unruly or disruptive behavior and those decisions are unaffected by the court’s recent ruling regarding masks,” said an airline spokesperson.
On Monday, just hours after the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced it would no longer enforce the mandate, Alaska Airlines became the first to signal a willingness to reopen the cabin door to passengers who had refused to comply with masking rules. In a blog post, the company wrote that noncompliant guests had been banned from traveling “while the federal mask policy remained in effect.” The carrier added that “some guests whose behavior was particularly egregious who will remain banned, even after the mask policy is rescinded.”
Very soon, two of the “Big Four” airlines had followed suit.
“With masks now optional, Delta will restore flight privileges for customers on the mask non-compliance no-fly list only after each case is reviewed and each customer demonstrates an understanding of their expected behavior when flying with us,” a Delta spokesperson told Forbes. “Any further disregard for the policies that keep us all safe will result in placement on Delta’s permanent no-fly list. Customers who demonstrated egregious behavior and are already on the permanent no-fly list remain barred from flying with Delta.”
United Airlines told Reuters that some of the roughly 1,000 passengers banned for not wearing masks would be able to return to the friendly skies “on a case by case basis.” A decision would be made “after ensuring their commitment to follow all crewmember instructions on board.”
The Biden administration’s mask mandate was in effect from February 2021 until Monday, when the judge’s ruling voided the requirement. The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced yesterday that it will appeal the ruling, following the a request from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Throughout the pandemic, the mandate has been a polarizing issue. While surveys show that a majority of Americans want the mask requirement to stay in place, a significant, vocal minority has opposed mask-wearing. Flight attendants have borne the brunt of unruly passenger incidents throughout the pandemic.
So far this year, carriers have reported 1,233 unruly passenger incidents, 797 of which were related to face masks, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration. Yesterday, the FAA announced it intends to make its “zero-tolerance” policy permanent. Under the policy, the agency can without warning issue fines as high as $37,000 per incident to those who refuse to comply with safety measures on a flight. Still, a very small percentage of cited passengers have actually received fines.
Airlines aren’t the only ones in a rush to put the mask mandate behind them. In the days since the ruling to overturn the law, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has quickly made some significant changes to its Covid-19 policy.
Like air passengers, TSA officers are no longer required to wear face masks inside most airports. And yesterday the TSA confirmed that it has stopped reporting how many employees are actively infected with Covid. “TSA was among the only agencies to report its infection information so transparently,” said a TSA spokesperson via email.
In its last update, yesterday, the TSA reported 388 employees with current active infections, a 44% jump from the 270 infected employees reported nine days ago on April 11. The agency has since removed the daily updates on employees with active infections from its website.