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‘Case-by-case’; United will allow passengers banned for mask-related incidents to fly again

On Wednesday, United confirmed to Insider that it will begin letting customers who had previously been barred from flying due to mask-related events to re-board its aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration received over 4,300 mask-related reports from airlines in 2021, with almost 800 reported so far in 2022.

The federal mask rule was due to expire on March 18, but the US Transportation Security Administration extended it to April 18 and then again till May 3. However, on Monday, a federal court in Florida ruled against the policy, ordering the TSA to cease implementing it. The CDC continues to ‘recommend that persons continue to use masks in indoor public transit situations,’ according to the agency.

Now that the law has been repealed, US airlines have started revising their policy to make facial coverings optional, with United even going so far as to welcome back those customers who had been barred during the outbreak. ‘On a case-by-case basis, we will allow select customers who were previously prohibited for failing to comply with mask-related requirements to travel United again,’ the airline told Insider. United did not explain the criterion for being removed from its internal ‘no-fly’ list, other than ‘ensuring their willingness to obey all crewmember instructions’ when aboard its aircraft.

According to the firm, 1,000 passengers were barred from travelling throughout the mask requirement’s duration. Airlines and flight attendants are relieved that the rule has been withdrawn, with many privately applauding the TSA’s decision. ‘We’ve dealt with so many customers who took the mask rule as an excuse to become verbally abusive to us,’ a seven-year flight attendant for a major US airline told Insider. ‘I’m simply relieved to be able to return to my other safety-related responsibilities.’

The crew member spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve his career, but Insider confirmed his name and position. While airline workers move forward, the FAA said it will continue its ‘zero-tolerance’ policy for rowdy behaviour on aircraft, which entails large penalties and possibly criminal prosecution for such disruptions, according to CNBC. Prior to the epidemic, the agency would offer warnings or counselling instead of heavier sanctions.

According to the FAA, 80 instances have been brought to the Justice Department since January 2021, and penalties of up to $82,000 have been issued to passengers. Acting FAA Administrator Bill Nolen told CNBC, ‘Behaving recklessly on a plane will cost you; that’s a promise. Unsafe behaviour simply does not fly, and maintaining our Zero Tolerance policy will assist us in continuing to make progress in preventing and punishing harmful behaviour.’



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