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Date: 2021-09-09 23:03:45
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The Transportation Security Administration could hit air, bus and train passengers who refuse to wear masks with fines of up to $3,000, the agency said Thursday, part of a wider effort by the Biden administration to quell a delta variant-driven uptick in Covid-19 cases.
The TSA will double its range of possible fines for mask non-compliance starting Friday: First-time offenders could face $500 to $1,000 in civil penalties, and repeat offenders could pay $1,000 to $3,000, up from the $250 to $1,500 range announced when the TSA first rolled out a transportation mask mandate in early February.
Federal officials have reported a surge in unruly airline passengers this year, and mask-related disputes are a frequent culprit: The TSA told Reuters it’s received more than 4,000 reports of mask incidents, and the Federal Aviation Administration says airline crews have reported over 3,057 mask-related problems this year.
The TSA’s mask mandate is set to expire in late January, but Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said Thursday the federal government will keep enforcing the rule “as long as necessary to protect public health and safety.”
TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement the increased fines are designed to “reinforce the importance of voluntary adherence.”
The TSA’s stricter posture is part of a wave of new public health measures announced by President Joe Biden on Thursday. Most notably, the Department of Labor will compel private companies with 100 or more employees to require their staff to either get vaccinated against Covid-19 or take weekly tests. The administration also says it will require federal employees and contractors to get vaccinated, mandate inoculations at health care facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funds and boost shipments of monoclonal antibodies for Covid-19 patients.
In recent months, domestic air passenger numbers have gradually — but not entirely — recovered from a long slump precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic. As more people return to the skies, federal officials and airline staff have warned of a high number of travelers who have been aggressive and abusive. The FAA has opened 752 investigations into unruly passengers so far this year, up from just 183 in all of 2020, and the TSA counted dozens of assaults against its staff from January to June. Authorities have blamed many of these incidents on passengers refusing to wear masks, but some airlines have also pointed fingers at intoxicated travelers, and the FAA said some unruly inflight behavior was tied to the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol.
“If you break the rules, be prepared to pay,” Biden said in a speech Thursday. “And by the way, show some respect. The anger you see on television toward flight attendants and others doing their job is wrong. It’s ugly.”
Many maskless passengers haven’t been penalized by the TSA. Out of more than 4,000 mask-wearing incidents this year, the TSA has referred just 126 people for civil penalties, with the vast majority of violations resulting in warnings, according to Reuters.