The punishments don’t appear to be fitting the crimes.
At least not in quantity.
The majority of the nearly 6,000 reports of unruly airline passengersfiled with the Federal Aviation Administration in 2021 were for violating the federal mask mandate. But the majority of those still went unpunished.
According to FAA statistics, 5,891 unruly passengers were reported to the agency last year, and 4,290 of them – or 73 percent – were for failure to wear a mask in the airport and onboard flights. But only 350 of them received any fines – which the FAA promised to utilize more often to crack down on these incidents.
And when you do the math, that’s just a half-percent of passengers involved all total incidents on planes who received some sort of punishment other than being thrown off the plane, and less than one percent for those who violated the federal mask mandate.
Interfering with a flight crew is a federal offense.
To be fair, the onboard incidents have reached unprecedented levels during the pandemic, and the most egregious cases of passenger incidents – usually involving physical assault of flight crew – have been prosecuted
Moreover, because of the breadth of incidents the FAA simply does not have the staff to pursue every case of mask violators other than having the airlines remove them from a flight. Delta Air Lines, for instance, has compiled its own internal list of nearly 2,000 passengers who are banned from flying the carrier.
The startling number of total incidents even prompted Delta CEO Ed Bastian to request a national ‘no-fly list’ as punishment for passengers causing altercations – something Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he would consider.
But since nearly three-quarters of all incidents have involved mask-wearing, or the lack thereof, and with Omicron variant-related cases of COVID-19 dropping worldwide, it again calls into question whether the government will lift the mask mandate when it comes up for review again on March 18.
Former Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, who retired on February 1, testified before Congress two months ago that he believes the mask mandate should be rescinded.
“I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment. It is very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting,” Kelly said during testimony, noting the use of HEPA filters and other effective virus-fighting tools.
Airline industry analyst Bryan Del Monte, president of the Minnesota-based consultancy The Aviation Agency, told TravelPulse last month he believes the mask mandate will likely go away.
“I mean, never say never, right? But I think once spring and summer roll around it’s a good likelihood that masks on planes go away,” Del Monte said.
But former Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldana, writing in Forbes Magazine, said to expect a another extension of the mandate. Baldana laid out several scenarios that would cause the government to maintain its insistence on masks.
“On an airplane more things happen,” he wrote. “What about when someone on boarding coughs while putting their baggage overhead? What happens when the auxiliary power unit (APU) isn't running at the gate so no air is flowing until the engines start? What about the people who eat or drink just slowly enough to keep their mask off most of the flight anyway? Flight attendants will lobby for the mandate to continue to keep themselves safe, and that reason is good enough. Plan to wear a mask on a plane all year, including when you travel next holiday season, too.”
This article originally appeared on Travel Pulse