Fewer Than 1 in 40 Airline Passengers Who Refuse to Wear Mask Face Fines

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has received around 2,350 reports of airline passengers refusing to comply with the federal mask mandate this year.

According to the FAA's latest figures, fewer than one in 40 of the people who refuse to wear a mask face fines. Around 3,100 reports of "unruly behavior by passengers" have been received by the FAA since January 1.

A spokesperson for the FAA told Newsweek: "The FAA's zero-tolerance policy remains fully in place, and we will continue to work with local law enforcement and the [U.S. Department of Justice] to make it clear that unsafe and unruly behavior simply does not fly.

"The FAA does not have criminal prosecution authority. Our legal authority is to fine passengers who cause disturbances on flights."

According to the FAA website, as of June 20, investigations for potential violations have begun for at least 487 of this year's "unruly passenger reports."

The FAA also states that "60 enforcement cases" have been initiated.

Only one of the most recent eight cases facing potential fines was not a mask-related incident.

Back in late April, the FAA reported on three other cases facing potential fines. Only one of the three was unrelated to masks or yelling.

So, with at least two reported cases being unrelated to masks or yelling, no more than 58 mask-related incidents could result in fines. This means fewer than one in 40 of the approximate 2,350 reports of passengers who refuse to comply with the mask requirement face fines.

The federal body has proposed a total of $563,800 in fines against unruly passengers, the FAA said in a statement on Tuesday.

It has proposed civil penalties ranging from $9,000 to $22,000 against eight passengers for "allegedly interfering with flight attendants who instructed them to obey cabin crew instructions and various federal regulations," it said.

The latest incidents include cases of "assaulting flight crew, drinking alcohol brought aboard the plane and refusing to wear facemasks," the FAA said.

According to the Associated Press, over the past 10 years, the federal body has investigated around 140 cases per year for possible FAA violations. This year the figure was at nearly 400 by late May.

The AP reported that U.S. airlines have banned at least 3,000 passengers since May 2020. But the figure does not include two of the country's largest carriers, American and Southwest, which decline to provide figures.

The FAA adopted its "zero-tolerance policy" in January, following "a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior."

The federal body said the incidents stemmed from those refusing to wear face coverings as well as from the violence seen during the U.S. Capitol riots.

The agency stated in January: "Passengers who interfere with, physically assault, or threaten to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft face stiff penalties, including fines of up to $35,000 and imprisonment. This dangerous behavior can distract, disrupt, and threaten crew members' safety functions."

The FAA report released on Tuesday follows a joint letter sent on Monday by Airlines for America, the Association of Flight Attendants and other groups to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, calling for "a stricter legal enforcement policy against unruly airline passengers."

The letter asks for "more be done to deter egregious behavior, which is in violation of federal law and crew member instruction.

"Specifically, the federal government should send a strong and consistent message through criminal enforcement that compliance with federal law and upholding aviation safety are of paramount importance."

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice told Newsweek: "We can confirm we received the referenced letter; however, we do not have any comment."

Also on Monday, Airlines for America sent a separate letter to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, urging federal bodies to "prosecute violators to the fullest extent of the law" and to "increase the public awareness of the very real ramifications, including jail time and significant financial penalties."

Newsweek has contacted Airlines for America and the Association of Flight Attendants for comment.

Update 6/23/21, 12:30 p.m. ET: This article was updated with comments from the FAA and the Department of Justice.

Correction 6/23/21, 12:30 p.m. ET: This article was updated to correct the spelling of Steve Dickson's name.

A mask sign at Miami International Airport.
A mask requirement sign seen at Miami International Airport in February in Florida as travelers prepare to check-in for their Delta Airlines flight. The FAA has received over 2,000 reports of airline passengers refusing to wear masks this year. Joe Raedle/Getty Images