Tag Archives: mask policy

An Anti-Masker Walked Into a Bar ….

Actually, no, it’s not a bar and it’s not a joke. They’re boarding airplanes, knowing full well that there is a federal policy requiring that masks always be worn except when actively eating or drinking. Yet they continue to reject compliance and, in many cases, verbally and physically abuse flight crews and fellow passengers.

The situation is so bad that the Federal Aviation Administration is publishing monthly Unruly Passenger Statistics. See https://www.faa.gov/unruly

It’s time to stop calling these miscreants “unruly passengers” and call them by their true name: Criminals. Why?

As stated by the FAA:

Interfering with the duties of a crewmember violates federal law

“Unruly passengers” can be fined by the FAA and criminally prosecuted by the FBI.

“Can be,” yes, but are they? Some are, for sure. You can read about some of the fines imposed in Travel Pulse: FAA Fines 10 Unruly Passengers $225K for Alleged Assault, https://bit.ly/3qGcoJm That’s some serious coin. The Washington Post reports that the FAA has referred 37 cases to the FBI for prosecution. https://wapo.st/3BQT5iq

The problem, as I see it, remains that only a small share of the cases is being pursued, despite a “zero tolerance” policy adopted by the FAA at the beginning of 2021:

The FAA reported 5,033 incidents of unruly passengers as of November during this year, 3,642 of which were related to mask-wearing. From the total number of incidents, the FAA initiated 950 investigations, a sixfold increase from last year.

The agency initiated enforcement action in 227 cases, some of which will lead to a civil penalty. Of the 227, 37 of the most egregious cases of disruptive or violent passenger behavior were referred to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution.

The progression from 5,033 incidents to 950 investigations to 227 enforcements to 37 possible criminal prosecutions suggests to the irresponsible anti-masker (who thinks it’s perfectly fine to violate federal law, assault flight attendants and possibly endanger the safety of an entire aircraft in flight) that his chances of getting away with “unruly behavior” are pretty good.

The words we use are important. Calling someone’s misconduct “unruly” diminishes its significance. It superficially equates attacks on flight attendants with talking too loudly, playing music without earbuds and generally being a slob. But those latter misbehaviors – obvious acts of unruliness — are in a completely different category from refusing to comply with masking rules and, even more obviously, physically attacking a flight crew member.

Aircraft in flight are no place for scuffles and fist fights. Nevertheless, in many cases other passengers have engaged miscreant anti-maskers in efforts to protect flight attendants and to restore order. It’s good that there are people prepared to engage in this way, but it should never escalate to that stage.

I well understand that airlines are reluctant to sound too “authoritarian” in presenting passengers with the “rule of the airways” after boarding, but the fact remains that the dangers of violent passengers on an aircraft present a uniquely problematic situation – for the passengers and crew as well as people on the ground.

The AFA-CWA International that represents flight attendants has argued that,

Expeditiously referring the most violent, physical assaults against crewmembers and passengers to the Department of Justice for public prosecution is the most effective way to deter bad actors and put a stop to the spike in disruptive passengers. https://bit.ly/3Cj0eZh

Absolutely right, but I would go even further and argue for criminal referral of every act of assault against crew members, as well as every act of refusal to follow flight crew instructions to “mask up.” If in the off chance that a crew member oversteps, the passenger can take it up with the airline after the flight, not by verbally or physically attacking the crew. Based on experience to date, it seems clear that the only way to deter this dangerous criminal behavior is to create the certainty that criminal prosecution will ensue.

So, FAA, start using the right words to describe the conduct and refer all the cases to the FBI. And while you’re at it, adopt the flight attendants’ union’s call for,

the creation of a centralized list of violators who will be denied the freedom of flight on all airlines. If a passenger physically assaults crewmembers or other passengers on one airline, they pose a risk to passengers and crew at every airline. They should be banned from flying on all airlines. Period.

The time has passed for putting that issue “on the table,” as suggested by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. It’s time to act.

AMTRAK Responds

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I took AMTRAK to task a while back for what I considered an amateurish performance in its communications about the resumption of “normal service,” wherein it had failed to mention and reinforce the federal mask mandate. https://bit.ly/3dekJwC I emailed AMTRAK to inform them of my posted statement. It took a while (pandemic, you know), but to my pleasant surprise, AMTRAK responded.

The reply contained what by now is the obligatory standard chiché for every public issue by virtually every enterprise, for-profit or otherwise:

… the safety of our passengers and employees is our number one priority.  Therefore, we have documented and forwarded your correspondence to the appropriate management for their review and appropriate action.  Please rest assured that we take matters such as these very seriously and appreciate your bringing it to our attention. [emphasis mine]

 OK, I admit to being a bit testy. The message went on to assure me that,

all passengers must complete this pre-trip COVID-19 check within 24 hours prior to departure. The pre-trip check includes acknowledgement that passengers agree to wear a mask at all times in compliance with federal laws and Amtrak policy. If they cannot acknowledge this, they will be asked [sic] reschedule.

That, of course, is good news and nice to know. The AMTRAK website does contain a clear statement of the mask rule that is still in place. I haven’t received any more promotional emails since my exchange with AMTRAK so I can’t say what, if anything, has changed in their communications. But I can say, GO AMTRAK!”

There, I feel better already.

AMTRAK — Communications 101

Late at night, I received an email from AMTRAK. I am a big fan of AMTRAK. I strongly prefer train travel over air travel between Washington and New York City and have used the regular trains, business class and, occasionally, Acela over the years. Most of the time, everything works pretty well, despite the horrors of the restrooms.

Here is Amtrak’s message, inspired no doubt by the CDC’s latest guidance:

Hi Amtrak Passenger,

Starting May 23, Amtrak will return to selling full seat capacity on most of our trains.  While you may have someone sitting next to you, our trains offer large spacious seats, ample legroom, no middle seats, and the freedom to move about the train.

When searching for travel, you will see that we added a percentage indicator that shows how full each reserved train is at the time of booking. You can use this feature to book trains that have more space and check how full your train is prior to travel.  If capacity exceeds comfort levels, you can change your ticket without incurring a fee (a fare difference may apply).

[In this spot was a screen capture of the Amtrak listing showing the percentage of seats full on a particular train. For reasons that defy understanding, WordPress will not permit that item to display]

In the meantime, Amtrak has been upgrading our technology, fleet, stations, and processes to make travel as seamless and safe as possible. This includes upgrades to the Amtrak app, where you can book, get boarding information, and check train status from a mobile device and receive real-time information before boarding. We’ve also been focusing on making the experience touch free, including contactless boarding, scanning tickets directly from the Amtrak app and installing new kiosks, which we will be rolling out throughout the year.

Thanks for being a valued Amtrak customer.  We’ll see you onboard!

The most up to date arrival and departure times are available on Amtrak.com, our free mobile apps, by texting “Status” to 800-872-7245 or by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).

Join us on facebook.com/Amtrak
Follow us on twitter.com/Amtrak

That’s grand, as far as it goes. My question is simple: why didn’t this message use this opportunity to reinforce the federal mask mandate? Given all the uncertainties associated with changing CDC guidance, plus the hysterical anti-vaccination, anti-mask, anti-public health, etc. crowd continuing their foolish anti-science ranting, you would think someone at AMTRAK would have piped up to note the absence of a reminder about the mask policy.

The failure to cover this runs the risk that travelers will show up, sans mask, claiming they saw the AMTRAK email and it said nothing about masks, therefore “I DON’T HAVE TO WEAR ONE AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME, MY RIGHTS, MY RIGHTS” etc., you know the drill by now. This obvious omission of an important message may place complying passengers in a difficult place, as has occurred on numerous airplanes in recent months (kudos to the Federal Aviation Administration for imposing major fines and deplaning the morons who refuse to comply with crewmember instructions).

AMTRAK, do yourself and your passengers a favor and put out another message that makes clear the federal mask mandate still applies in AMTRAK stations and on trains.