Face masks are now required in airplane flights to help curb the spread of the virus, and unfortunately, requiring people to mask up in planes sometimes results to ugly confrontations.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, flight attendants and crew members have reported more than 200 incidents to the federal government that they were harassed or threatened over in-flight mask policies.
In one situation, a flight attendant said that there are four passengers who would not keep their masks on harassed her over what they called “a simple mask issue.” The incident got so tense that the aircraft had to return to its gate.
In another case, a passenger who kept removing his mask rolled his eyes and yelled at a flight attendant, saying “SHUT UP!”
Other flight attendants have been met with passive-aggressive behaviors of defiance.
One flight attendant said a passenger refused to put his mask back on after the in-flight beverage service despite multiple warnings. The passenger told the crew, “Well, if I hold my water bottle, I cannot wear my mask, right?” He then sipped water slowly for the rest of the flight, exploiting a policy that allows passengers to remove their masks while actively eating or drinking.
When airline companies issued mandatory mask policies to keep their business operating, the task of enforcing them often falls to flight attendants.
In the US, where such a basic safety measure against Covid-19 is highly politicized, that task can be challenging and can be dangerous.
Allie Malis, a flight attendant for American Airlines and a government affairs representative for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants said:
“Enforcing mass compliance has been one of the most difficult parts of our job. We’re considered essential workers, but there’s no hazard pay or anything like that.”
While airlines and crew members note that the majority of passengers do obey mask policies, flight attendant unions say their members regularly encounter passengers who respond with belligerence, verbal threats, and even physical assault.
Without federal mask regulations, many airline crews felt there was little they could do to ensure compliance or protect themselves at least against backlash and aggression.
This situation has changed when President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Thursday directing federal agencies to require masks in airports and on airplanes, trains, ferries, buses, and other public transportation.
This news is welcomed by the flight attendants.
The incident became so troubling that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently announced it would adopt a stricter approach in dealing with unruly passengers.
According to FAA, thought March 20, 2021, passengers who assault, threaten, intimidate or interfere with airline crew members can face fines of as much as $35,000 and even imprisonment.
“We have zero tolerance for threatening or violent behavior by passengers, and we will take the strongest possible enforcement action against any passenger who engages in it,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a video message last week.