Yesterday, I was asked to go on our local news here in L.A. to talk about the new mask fines. If you recall, back on February 2, the Biden Administration instituted a federal mask mandate. It was supposed to end on September 13 but they’ve extended it until January 18, 2022 and it will probably be extended at least another few months after that. It all depends on COVID-19 cases.
Immediately I went on to the station’s Twitter handle (@CBSLA) to look for the story to do some research and to be better prepared for my interview and I noticed, coincidentally, that the image for the story is a stock image of me! I’ve seen it before in an NBC News article so it’s really making the rounds. The photo was taken on Avelo Airlines’ inaugural flight, which was between Burbank and Sonoma, back in April. I don’t know the photographer but I did see a huge lens being pointed at me so I went with it. Here’s my trip report of that memorable flight.
The TSA’s new range of mask fines, which took effect yesterday (September 10), doubled. First offense fines will now range from $500 to $1,000 and for second-time offenders, $1,000 to $3,000. According to the article on CBS Los Angeles, “The increased fines come at the end of a summer travel season that has seen a large uptick in violent confrontations between passengers and flight attendants over the federal mask mandate. In one shocking incident, an attack on an attendant on a flight from Sacramento to San Diego knocked out two of her teeth and left her face bloody.”
President Biden went on national television to announce the increased fines and said, “If you break the rules, be prepared to pay and, by the way, show some respect.”
Unfortunately, passengers have been disrespecting flight attendants long before COVID-19. You may remember, I dated a United flight attendant named Amber over 20 years ago when I had just started this website so I learned firsthand how awful some passengers can be. I’m not sure if it’s a power thing or if they’re so nervous about flying or they were brought up with no manners but some people can be extremely rude and demeaning to flight attendants – even the nice ones.
One tip I learned from traveling so much, and even before I met Amber, was to be extra nice to the flight attendants and gate agents because they not only work very hard to help travelers but they can also make or break your trip (especially back then, before complex and strict computer systems). I started carrying a few boxes of individually wrapped chocolates in my bag and still do today. One is for the gate agents, one is for the flight attendants and one is for myself (just kidding!) Don’t expect anything in return (you won’t get upgraded or anything since everything is tracked) but you will make a deserving person’s day. This can also be achieved simply by smiling and being nice, which should be common sense but apparently it’s not.
The interview aired at 4:30pm on CBS’ sister station KCAL (channel 9). The anchors were Amy Johnson and Lesley Marin and I was joined by Dante Harris, the local president of the Association of Flight Attendants, LAX & San Diego chapter for United Airlines.
It doesn’t look like they posted our segment online so below, I’m expanding on the answers I gave since I didn’t have time to answer fully.
The first question asked went to Dante: DO YOU THINK THE NEW RULES WILL CHANGE ANYTHING TO HELP FLIGHT ATTENDANTS?
He said they do but I wanted to chime in and disagree. I really don’t think doubling the fines is going to do anything. For one, the passengers who are going to act up won’t even know the fines have doubled and if they did, I suspect they wouldn’t care. My thoughts on what will make them stop are below in question three.
The second question went to me: WHY DO YOU THINK PASSENGERS HAVE BECOME SO MUCH MORE ANGRY AND VIOLENT THIS YEAR?
On air, I said something like I really thought that after so long in lockdown, passengers would be so happy to be traveling that everyone would be on their best behavior. But sadly, I was wrong. I know that all of us are suffering from some degree of COVID-related stress. Many people lost their jobs and are experiencing financial hardships. Being in lockdown is difficult and being separated from loved ones is hard. And of course, the hundreds of thousands of people who died from COVID have left behind families and friends who are grieving their loss. It’s been a lot to cope with.
But what I didn’t say is that the real reason passengers have become so violent in resisting the airlines’ mask policies is because our former president dangerously said he wouldn’t wear a mask and right wing media outlets ran with it. So now, wearing a mask for many has become a political issue rather than a public health one, which it obviously is. NOTE: Cloth masks aren’t as effective as medical-grade masks, which is why many airlines in Europe have banned them and are making passengers upgrade their masks. I think they might do the same in the USA as well. Here’s my post on it including where to buy one before there’s a shortage again.
Before you send me a nasty email that I won’t reply to, keep in mind that “in a typical year, the FAA sees 100 to 150 formal cases of bad passenger behavior. Since January, the FAA has reported nearly 3,900 incidents, including 2,867 cases involving passengers who refused to comply with the federal mask mandate on planes.” (source) So don’t try and tell me it has nothing to do with face masks or a former president who, if he was a real leader and team player, would have said yes, of course, I will trust the public health experts, wear a mask and lead by example.
The next question went to Dante: SHOULD THE TSA OR AIRLINES BE DOING MORE TO PROTECT FLIGHT ATTENDANTS? AND IF SO, WHAT?
I’m not sure what he said because I was too busy thinking about what I would say, which is that they should be making the penalties for offenders much stronger. What will make them stop is arresting them and most importantly, banning them, not just from the airline they were on but from all airlines. If the airlines shared their blacklist database, you would see passengers pull up their socks quickly.
Finally ,the last question to me was: JUST LIKE 9/11 CHANGED TRAVEL RULES FOREVER… DO YOU FEEL COVID WILL DO THE SAME?
I said that I do and that’s not a bad thing. One of my biggest pet peeves pre-pandemic was passengers who coughed or sneezed without covering their mouths (here are some of my other pet peeves when flying; what are yours?). I saw this on almost every flight, no matter what class I was seated in. Thanks to COVID, I don’t think we’ll see as many people coughing or sneezing without covering their mouths on every flight. And if passengers are visibly sick, including flight attendants, they will feel the pressure to stay home, which people should have been doing all along. I also think people will either wear or at least carry face masks with them like they do in Asia, regardless of whether they have to or not.
What are your thoughts on passenger behavior and the TSA’s new mask fine? Leave a comment below.