Disputes over face masks on planes contribute to increase in rowdy passenger incidents

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Strict regulations on wearing a face covering on board a flight have led to an increase in disruptive passengers, industry executives have warned.

According to the aviation body Iata, which represents 290 carriers, incidents doubled in 2020 and the number continues to increase in 2021.

One airline reported more than 1,000 incidents of non-compliance in a single week, TravelWeekly reported.

Another carrier reported a 55 percent increase in rowdy passenger incidents, based on the number carried.

In another study, the US Federal Aviation Authority recorded more than 4,600 incidents between January and early October 2021, many of which involved refusal to wear a mask on board.

In one incident, a woman traveling from the Dominican Republic to New York City refused to comply with instructions to wear a mask on the plane, threw an empty bottle that almost hit another passenger, threw the food and yelled obscenities at the flight attendants – causing the theft to be hijacked.

Iata calls on governments to provide further advice to resolve “legal loopholes” regarding the state that has jurisdiction over unruly passengers. The UK is expected to sign an agreement next month giving jurisdiction to the country where the plane lands.

However, current legislation already gives countries provisions in their national laws to allow the prosecution of unruly passengers.

Tim Colehan, Iata’s deputy director of government and industrial affairs, said: “One explanation for the rise in incidents is that the context has changed. Not wearing a mask is arguably no different from wearing a seat belt or storing your laptop. They involve non-compliance with instructions.

“But due to the pandemic and the public health implications, not wearing a mask makes it much more personal and has caused a confrontation between the passengers.”

Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission of Covid on board planes is already low. Wearing a mask by passengers and crew further reduces the risk.

The issue will be discussed at an Iata cabin safety conference on December 7-8.

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