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By Julia Glum
August 24, 2021
Female passenger wearing a face mask while putting luggage away in the overhead bin on plane
Getty Images

Refusing to wear a mask doesn't only make it easier for you to spread COVID-19 — it could also cost you a lot of money on your next flight.

The Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, announced last week that it's pushing to fine 34 airline passengers more than $531,000 total for unruly behavior on board recent flights. Of those cases, 21 involved people refusing to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirement that all individuals over age 2 (and who are not exempt due to disability) wear a mask on public transportation.

As demand for travel starts to get back to normal due to the coronavirus vaccines, this fits into a growing trend. Over 2,800 of the 3,889 passenger behavior complaints the FAA has received so far in 2021 have to do, at least in part, with the mask policy.

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For example, the FAA said in its news release that it wants one passenger to pay $42,000 "for allegedly interfering with crewmembers after failing to comply with the facemask mandate;" snorting what seemed to be cocaine; and touching, threatening, gesturing towards and throwing stuff at people on a Jet Blue flight in May. It's also seeking roughly $17,000 each from two travelers on separate flights who resisted the mask mandate, vaped and drank alcohol not served by the airline.

The mask protests — and subsequent fines — are happening across companies. The FAA is asking for $9,000 apiece from several people who protested masks on United Airlines, Delta Airlines, Allegiant Air, Endeavor Airlines and Alaska Airlines flights. In many cases, police met the suspects at the gate; in some, they escorted the unruly passengers off the aircraft.

The bad behavior is compounding the headache that is air travel this summer, with long lines, flight delays and surging ticket prices. It also, of course, comes amid political debate.

In June, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., introduced the Stop Mandating Additional Requirements for Travel Act aimed at prohibiting federal authorities from making mask policies for public transportation. In early August, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, took up the cause in the No Mask Mandates Act, saying that "the American people must have the freedom to exercise personal choice when it comes to protecting their health and the health of their families."

For its part, the Transportation Security Administration said Friday it's extending its mask requirement on public transit (in airports as well as on commercial planes, buses and trains) through Jan. 18.

Flights aren't the only place refusing to wear a face-covering comes with financial consequences. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened to fine people as much as $1,000 last year if they resisted mask rules. El Paso, Texas, is currently making people who violate the county-wide mask mandate pay up to $500, according to local news affiliate KFOX14. A $100 fine for mask flaunters just launched Tuesday in East Hartford, Connecticut, sending a clear message: Cover your nose and mouth, or be prepared to pay up.

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