Free to fly but pay the fine

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

Protesting airplane mask mandates already results in hefty fines, harsher punishment for not wearing a mask is uncalled for.

By Isaac Dektor, News Editor

Weaponizing the no-fly list will exacerbate profiling of certain groups (Graphic Illustration by Vickie Guzman/The Valley Star).

While a monetary punishment is necessary to deter travelers from refusing to wear a mask, potentially increasing the odds that COVID-19 will be transmitted on an airplane, the threat these individuals present does not warrant their names being placed on the no-fly list.

The Federal Aviation Administration regulates civil aviation in the U.S. and surrounding international waters. The administration issued a zero tolerance policy on unruly passengers in the wake of reports that some passengers refused to comply with mask mandates. Serial offenders face fines that increase with every offense, topping off at $3,000.

The FAA does not have jurisdiction over the no fly list, which is used to collect names of individuals who authorities suspect may be planning to or engaging in a violent act of terrorism. The no-fly list had 16 names on it on 9/11, according to lawfareblog. The list had expanded exponentially by 2002 with the most recent available public records from 2016 containing roughly 81,000 names according to The New York Times.

A woman aboard a Jetblue flight from the Dominican Republic to New York reportedly refused to wear a mask, threw food around the cabin and hit a flight attendant in the arm. Another Jetblue passenger refused to comply with the mask mandate, threatened fellow passengers, threw a playing-card at one person and allegedly snorted white powder from a bag that appeared to be cocaine according to the FAA. A man aboard a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Sacramento hit a flight attendant with his luggage after being directed to wear his mask. All three passengers have more in common than being unruly, disrespectful, and in some cases downright dangerous. They were all fined tens of thousands of dollars, with a grand total of $91,250 for all three passengers.

Fines issued to unruly passengers by the FAA have reached over $1 million in 2021 alone. Since the beginning of this year, the FAA has issued 3,889 fines to unruly passengers, 2,867 of whom refused to comply with the mask mandate.

While an individual who refuses to wear a mask on an airplane is causing a scene, being disrespectful, and creating a modicum of danger through the possible spread of a deadly virus, the danger their actions present does not rise to the level of violent terrorism.

The no fly list is a remnant of the post 9/11 hysteria that led to the expansion of power by homeland security and a newly ended 20-year war that began under false pretenses. Fortifying the defense and security of commercial air travel was necessary after that fateful day, but another lesson to be learned is that hysteria can lead to rash and consequential decisions.

When civil liberties are relinquished in times of emergency, such as terrorist attacks or deadly viruses, the government does not return the rights that were taken away once the emergency concludes.