An American Airlines passenger was kicked off a flight Wednesday after he refused to wear a face mask. This comes just days after airlines announced that there would be stricter enforcement of their mandatory face covering policy.
Airlines for America, an industry trade group representing major airlines, announced last month that they support new measures “requiring customer-facing employees and passengers wear a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth throughout the journey — during check-in, boarding, in-flight and deplaning.”
The coronavirus safety guidelines of mandatory face coverings weren’t enforced until this week.
“Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization representing the leading U.S. airlines, announced that its member carriers will be vigorously enforcing face covering policies, putting rigor around rules requiring passengers and customer-facing employees to wear facial coverings over their nose and mouth,” the statement released on Monday read. “This is one critical element of the multiple layers that A4A carriers are implementing to mitigate risk and protect passengers and crew.”
Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines agreed to require face coverings for passengers.
“Each carrier will determine the appropriate consequences for passengers who are found to be in noncompliance of the airline’s face covering policy up to and including suspension of flying privileges on that airline,” the Airlines for America statement said.
Delta Air Lines and American Airlines threatened to ban flyers who do not comply with their mandatory face covering policies.
“We take our mask requirement just as seriously. That’s why customers are not allowed to board a Delta aircraft without wearing a mask and must follow crew member instructions to properly wear a mask in flight,” Delta said in a statement. “Those who choose not to comply with this or other safety requirements risk future flight privileges with Delta.”
“American already enforces this policy at the gate and will deny boarding to customers who don’t comply,” American Airlines said in a news release. “American now may also deny future travel for customers who refuse to wear a face covering.”
On Wednesday, the new rules were challenged by an American Airlines passenger. Brandon Straka was booted from a flight from New York to Dallas after he refused to wear a face mask. Straka was removed from American Airlines Flight 1263 from LaGuardia to Dallas/Fort Worth.
“After he refused to comply with the instructions provided by the flight crew, our team members asked him to deplane,” a statement from American Airlines said. “He deplaned and the flight departed the gate four minutes late at 12:34 p.m. ET.”
New York Times reporter Astead Herndon was on the same flight, and recorded the confrontation between Straka and a flight attendant. The video does not show Straka or the flight crew member, but it features the audio between the two.
The flight attendant asks Straka if he has a medical condition that prevents him from wearing a mask, and he says that he does. The flight crew member asks, “Do you have a medical certificate, do you have documentation from a doctor, do you have a letter?” Straka replies that he doesn’t have any of those items.
“You’re holding up the whole airplane at this point,” the flight attendant tells Straka.
Several passengers are heard commenting on the situation; one passenger says,” Sir, can you put it on or get off?”
Straka told CNN in a phone interview that the flight was preparing to depart when “one of the flight attendants came to me pretty aggressively and said, ‘Sir, you need to be wearing your mask.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t have one.'”
“I was just removed from my flight for not wearing a mask. 1st time this has happened. Not a federal law,” Straka wrote on Twitter. “@AmericanAir staff standing over me telling me it’s THE LAW. So much for ‘please respect those who can not wear a mask.’ When I pointed out this wasn’t a law I was removed.”
“STILL nobody has asked if there’s a reason why I can’t,” Straka said on Twitter. “AFTER kicked me off, manager says ‘they made a mistake. shouldn’t have done that.'”
“This is insane. Absolutely insane,” Straka said in a Periscope video. “These people have gone absolutely nuts. We don’t even have a choice anymore.”
Straka said he finds it “difficult and prohibitive to wear a mask.”
“I fly sometimes two or three times a week, and even during shutdown I was flying a minimum of once every two weeks,” Straka said. “I am quite used to traveling and this has literally never been an issue. Not one single time, even with this airline.”
Straka was rebooked on a later flight after he agreed to adhere to company policies, the airline said.
Straka is politically active, and is the founder of the WalkAway campaign, which “encourages and supports those on the Left to walk away from the divisive tenets endorsed and mandated by the Democratic Party of today.”
The Federal Aviation Administration does not require passengers or flight crew to wear masks on commercial flights.
Stephen Dickson, the head of the FAA, told a Senate committee that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the lead agency on COVID-19 precautions and not the FAA.
“Our space is aviation safety and their space is public health,” Dickson said.
When asked why the FAA isn’t making face coverings mandatory, Dickson cited Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s policy that “these will not be regulatory mandates.”
Dickson did encourage airline passengers to wear face coverings “for their own protection and the protection of those around them. Face coverings are especially important in situations where social distancing is not feasible.”