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FAA fines Love Field passenger $21,000 for refusing to wear mask, punching Southwest employee in jaw

The man allegedly hit an airline employee in the jaw as the man was being escorted off the plane.
Travelers check in at Love Field airport May 28.(LM Otero)

By Kyle Arnold

The Federal Aviation Administration fined a Southwest Airlines passenger $21,000 for refusing to wear a mask and hitting an airline employee in the jaw during an incident in February at Dallas Love Field.

The man, who was not identified by the agency, was one of eight people fined a combined $124,500 for interfering with flight attendants, the aviation regulator announced Tuesday.

The fines come amid renewed pleas from airlines, flight attendants and pilots for the federal government to adopt “a stricter legal enforcement policy against unruly airline passengers,” according to a letter sent to congressional leaders from airlines and their unions. New policies are necessary because of “heightened concern regarding the substantial increase in and growing escalation of passengers’ unruly and disruptive behavior onboard aircraft,” the letter said.

The Love Field incident occurred on Feb. 22 on a flight from Dallas to Albuquerque. The man refused to wear a mask while boarding, even after being given a new, sealed mask, according to the FAA.

“He placed a bandana over his face but later removed it in every instance,” the FAA said. “Shortly after the plane doors closed and the aircraft taxied from the gate, he removed his mask again.”

The incident forced the plane’s captain to return from the runway to the gate.

When a customer service supervisor came to escort the man off the plane, the passenger threw the mask on the ground and struck the airline employee in the jaw with his fist.

The FAA said the passenger was detained by police and issued a citation for assault. The Dallas Police Department was unable to immediately provide an incident or arrest report.

So far in 2021, the FAA has fined at least 60 people a total of more than $563,800, according to a Bloomberg report published Tuesday.

The FAA has initiated 487 enforcement cases this year through Sunday, far exceeding the previous high for an entire year, 305 in 2004, the agency said. Of the 3,082 reports of unruly passengers in 2021 received by the FAA, 2,350, or 76%, were related to face masks.

Among other incidents the FAA reported on Tuesday was a Skywest passenger who repeatedly ignored instructions to wear a mask and then walked into the lavatory and started drinking his own alcohol. Another Southwest passenger flying from Los Angeles to Sacramento refused to put on his mask while talking on the phone during takeoff before cursing at flight attendants.

While airlines have been enforcing mask rules since May of last year, the Biden administration made face masks mandatory at airports and on airplanes in January and renewed the mandate in April. The White House has said the mask rule won’t be lifted until at least Sept. 3.

Bloomberg contributed to this report.

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