We frequently cover onboard mask incidents on Live and Let’s Fly, but our profiles of poor behavior are really just the tip of iceberg: thousands of passengers have been banned during the pandemic for refusing to wear a face-covering onboard. In fact, United Airlines recently confirmed that about 1,000 passengers on United alone have been banned over mask-related issues.
United is not in this alone. Every major US airline implemented its own mask requirement policies in compliance with recommendations from Centers for Disease Control and hold its own no-fly list for those who refuse to comply. The United States also has a federal order that outlines a mandatory mask policy that requires passengers to wear their mask for the duration of the flight unless they are actively eating or drinking.
Some airlines have gone a step further by adding social distancing onboard by blocking middle seats. The airline industry is split on this, American Airlines and United abandoned this long ago, Delta, Alaska Airlines, and JetBlue held out longer.
United Airlines CEO: We’ve Banned “About 1,000” Passengers For Mask Compliance Issues
Appearing on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” earlier this week, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby was asked about dealing with unruly passengers onboard. He responded:
“We’ve got a whole de-escalation protocol we go through at United to attempt to avoid making the situation complex. it ultimately results in a flight attendant handing a note, a pre-written card, to a customer that says essentially last warning, if you don’t wear the mask you’ll be banned form flying United until the mask policy is removed.
“We’ve had about 1,000 customers that we have ultimately temporarily banned from flying United in the last year. But given the numbers we carry, that’s a relatively small number.”
1,000 customers over a year is not much considering United carried 162 million people in 2019 and even during the pandemic has carried over 100,000 passengers on most days.
But note the de-escalation protocol Kirby mentioned and I have outlined before requires three warnings before a passenger’s name is even submitted to a committee to be reviewed. You really have to behave poorly in order to be banned.
The good news is that the rate of passenger bans is decreasing. Kirby added:
I think it’s getting less and less. The societal acceptance of masks and doing the right thing is much higher, at least that is my anecdotal view. So we have few incidents. Not zero, but far fewer.
That has been my anecdotal observation as well.
Zach Honig recently compiled the number of passengers who have been banned across all U.S. airlines and estimates the total number is closer to 4,000, perhaps higher. I find that remarkable considering how many warnings a passenger receives, but overall it still marks just a tiny percentage of the millions of travelers who take to the skies.
image: United Airlines
What do you think about United Airlines passenger mask bans?