Passenger ruins London trip for dozens of travelers after pilot turns back
An American Airlines flight to London abruptly turned around and returned to Miami earlier this week. It wasn’t a mechanical issue that necessitated the return, however.
Instead, the incident was caused by a disruptive passenger who refused to wear a face mask, which is required by federal law.
The Face Mask Mandate
Last fall, in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expanded its requirement for travelers to wear face coverings on all transportation systems in the United States, including at airports and on board aircraft. .
The penalty for refusing to wear a face mask on these transit systems, which also includes all bus and train systems, ranges from $500 to $1,000 for first-time offenders. Secondary offenders face fines ranging from $1,000 to $3,000.
American Airlines’ website clearly states that “US federal law requires that you wear a face covering at all times inside the airport and on board your flight, regardless of your vaccination status.”
“If you refuse to wear one, you risk being denied boarding and future travel on American,” the American Airlines policy continues. “You may also face penalties under federal law.”
American Airlines Flight 38 departed Miami International Airport for London just before 8 a.m. EST on Wednesday.
Then, just under 90 minutes later, the plane returned and landed in Miami, according to flight trackers. The Boeing 777, carrying 129 passengers and 14 crew, was about 500 miles from its 4,400-mile flight when it reversed course, according to flight tracks.
Curtis Blessing, a spokesperson for American Airlines, said USA today that the pilots were forced to fly the plane back to Miami “due to a disruptive customer refusing to comply with the federal mask requirement.”
Officers from the Miami-Dade Police Department encountered the robbery upon his return. They then escorted the disruptive passenger, a woman believed to be in her 40s, off the plane. The woman did not resist, the Washington Post reports.
Argemis Colome, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Police Department, said police treated the incident as a disturbance call and the passenger was not arrested.
“She was pretty much handled administratively by the airline,” Colome told the Washington Post.
Blessing, the US spokesman, told the Washington Post that the woman was placed on the airline’s list of passengers who are not allowed to fly. It’s unclear at this point whether the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will conduct an additional investigation or impose a civil penalty on the woman.
American Airlines Flight 38 was later canceled and all other passengers were rebooked on other flights.
Not an isolated event
The rate of incidents of unruly passengers – including those refusing to wear a mask – hit record highs last year. Indeed, in 2021, the FAA received 5,981 reports of unruly passengers, including 4,290 incidents related to masks.
The good news is that the FAA notes that the rate of incidents involving unruly passengers has dropped about 50% since hitting an all-time high in early 2021. Still, “there is still work to be done” , says the FAA.
For example, although it is still early in the month, the FAA has received 151 reports of unruly passengers this year, since last Tuesday. These reports include 92 incidents related to face masks.
To learn more about how the FAA and airlines deal with unruly passengers, be sure to read: