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What happens when airline passengers refuse to wear masks

A passenger on a JetBlue flight from the Dominican Republic to New York refused to wear a face mask, threw food and an empty liquor bottle in the plane, shouted obscenities and hit a flight attendant in the arm, the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday. A passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight about to take off from Chicago to Sacramento also refused to wear a mask, called two flight attendants who ordered him off the plane “pathetic” and hit one of the crew members with his luggage as he walked off, the agency said writes Hugo Martin for the Los Angeles Times.

Image - Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times

And then there is the flier on an Alaska Airlines plane preparing to fly from Bozeman to Seattle who ignored repeated reminders to wear a mask, causing the plane to return to the gate, according to the FAA.

The incidents of passengers being unruly — ignoring crew members’ instructions, fighting and refusing to wear a mask — have been surging, according to the FAA, even while the number of Americans flying on commercial planes remains about 40% below pre-pandemic levels.

The rise comes despite a new federal law that makes wearing a mask on commercial flights mandatory, punishable by a fine of $250 for the first offense and up to $1,500 for repeat offenses. Before it became law, the nation’s airlines adopted mask-wearing policies, enforcing them by banning repeat offenders from flying. The federal mask mandate, which began February 1, was set to expire on May 11 but the U.S. Transportation Security Administration recently extended it until September 13.

“The physical and verbal abuse that flight attendants have been taking has been way off the charts,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, told NBC News.

The rise also comes despite FAA Administrator Steve Dickson issuing a zero-tolerance order in January against unruly passengers. Instead of giving warnings or requiring unruly passengers to seek counselling, he s