DALLAS ( Associated Press) – Airlines have banned several thousand passengers since the pandemic began for refusing to wear masks. Now they want most of those passengers back.
American, United and Delta have all indicated they will lift restrictions now imposed because masks are optional on flights.
“We’ve spoken to him personally,” United CEO Scott Kirby told NBC on Thursday. “Many of them assure us that now that the mask mandate is off, everything is going to be okay, and I’m sure most of them will.”
American Airlines chief government affairs officer Nate Gaten told reporters that “in most cases,” people who were banned from wearing masks would be allowed back.
“In cases where an incident could start with non-compliance with face masks and turn into something more serious – certainly an attack on one of our team members or customers – those passengers… Will not be allowed to travel with us,” Gaten said.
Delta Air Lines spokesman Morgan Durant said the airline would reinstate flight privileges after a case-by-case review and customer understanding of expected behavior.
“Any further disregard for the policies that keep us all safe will result in placement on Delta’s permanent no-fly list,” he said.
Airlines have reported more than 7,000 incidents of disruptive passengers to the Federal Aviation Administration since early 2021, when planes seemed to be uncontrollable. More than two-thirds of these cases involved passengers who refused to wear masks.
Several thousand passengers were injured on the airline’s no-fly list, although the exact number is unclear because American and Southwest never disclosed how many they banned.
Alaska Airlines said this week that restricted passengers would not be welcome back. Southwest said a judge’s decision revoking the federal mandate would not change its decision to bar an undisclosed number of passengers.
The mask-mandate story has had enough twists this week to make even a seasoned traveler a little sick. On Monday, a federal judge in Florida revoked the mandate., which dated February 2021 and also covered public transport including trains, subways and buses. She said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not follow proper rule-making procedures.
Within hours, most airlines rushed to make masks optional. When the Transportation Security Administration announced hours later that it would not enforce the rule, many – but not all – airports and public transportation systems also made masks voluntary.
Late Wednesday, the Justice Department announced it would appeal the Florida judge’s decision., However, the Biden administration did not indicate whether it plans to put an immediate moratorium on the ruling – which could allow the TSA to resume enforcing the mask rule.
Meanwhile, the FAA’s acting administrator, Billy Nolan, said the agency was making its zero-tolerance policy against unruly travelers permanent. Under the policy, the FAA can demand fines without first issuing a warning to disruptive passengers.
The response to the end of the mask mandate has been mixed. On Monday, several passengers cheered when they told him in the middle of the flight that they could remove their masks. Others took to social media to say that they do not want to fly if other passengers are flown without masks.
United’s Kirby and American’s chief commercial officer, Vasu Raja, said they have yet to see any indication that the rule’s end is affecting ticket sales in some way.
Airline officials believe that any increase in happy customers not requiring masks will be offset by those who do not want to fly because other passengers will not be masked.
With the rule in place for now, airlines are training their lobbying efforts to eliminate the requirement that international passengers must pass a COVID-19 test within a day before flying for US airline executives, It believes the rule is making Americans hesitant to book international travel because they could be stranded away from home if they contract the virus on their travels.