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US airlines set to forgive mask refusers

US airlines want to allow several thousand passengers banned from flying – for refusing to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic – to return.

American, United and Delta have all indicated that they will lift the bans they imposed now that masks are optional on flights.

“We have talked to them individually,” United CEO Scott Kirby told NBC on Thursday.

“Many of them assure us that now that the mask mandate is off, everything is going to be fine, and I trust that the vast majority of them will.”

American Airlines Chief Government Affairs Officer Nate Gatten told reporters that “in most cases,” people who were banned over masks will be allowed back.

“In cases where an incident may have started with face mask non-compliance and escalated into anything involving something more serious – certainly an assault on one of our team members or customers – those passengers… will never be allowed to travel with us again,” Gatten said.

Delta Air Lines spokesman Morgan Durrant said the airline will restore flying privileges after a case-by-case review and the customer’s understanding of expected behaviour.

“Any further disregard for the policies that keep us all safe will result in placement on Delta’s permanent no-fly list,” he said.

Airlines have reported more than 7000 incidents of disruptive passengers to the Federal Aviation Administration since the start of 2021, when unruliness aboard planes seemed to take off.

More than two-thirds of those cases involved passengers who refused to wear a mask.

Several thousand passengers wound up on airline no-fly lists although the exact number is unclear because American and Southwest have never disclosed how many people they banned.

Alaska Airlines said this week that banned passengers would not be welcomed back.

Southwest said a judge’s ruling that struck down the federal mandate will not change its decision to bar an undisclosed number of passengers.

On Monday, a federal judge in Florida struck down the mask requirement, which dated to February 2021 and also covered public transport including trains, subways and buses.

She said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not follow proper rule-making procedures.

Within hours, most airlines across the US rushed to make masks optional.

When the Transportation Security Administration announced a few hours later that it would not enforce the rule, many – but not all – airports and public transit systems also made masks voluntary.

Late on Wednesday, the Justice Department announced that it will appeal the Florida judge’s ruling.

With the rule gone for now, airlines are training their lobbying efforts on eliminating the requirement that international travellers pass a COVID-19 test within a day before boarding a flight to the US.

Airline officials believe that rule is making US citizens hesitate to book international travel because they could be stranded away from home if they contract the virus on their trip.

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