An American Airlines flight from Miami to London on Wednesday night turned around over the Atlantic ocean after a passenger reportedly refused to wear a face mask, the latest example of unusual in-flight disputes that have spiked during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Around an hour into its journey to London’s Heathrow Airport, flight AAL38 turned around and returned to Miami International Airport, according to flight trackers.
In a statement, American Airlines said the flight was diverted due to “a disruptive customer refusing to comply with the federal mask requirement,” according to the New York Times and CBS.
Local law enforcement met the jet when it landed, the statement said, though it is unclear whether anyone was detained or charged over the incident.
The flight was canceled and passengers had to seek alternative arrangements, CBS reported.
4,290. That’s how many mask-related incidents were reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2021, according to the organization, in addition to nearly 6,000 unruly passenger reports.
The travel industry has been one of the worst hit during the pandemic and as passengers return to the skies they have faced a string of new restrictions designed to stop the spread of coronavirus. The rules have sparked an increase in aggressive behavior, officials warn, and in addition to the nearly 6,000 incidents logged by the FAA, the Transportation Security Administration counted dozens of attacks against its staff last year, many of which officials blame on passengers refusing to wear masks. The FAA opened 1,081 investigations into unruly passengers last year, up from just 183 in 2020, and started 350 enforcement actions.
Ten passengers were handed fines of more than $200,000 for unruly behavior by the FAA last year including spitting, screaming and punching a flight attendant. Officials have proposed a total of more than $1.45 million in fines against passengers accused of bad behavior.
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