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Travelers who refuse to wear masks could face fines of more than $1,000, TSA says

First offenders could face fines of $250

Travelers check in for a flight at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Transportation Security Administration is beefing up its enforcement of a federal mask mandate, announcing Friday that people who refuse to comply could face fines of more than $1,000.

The agency said that it is recommending fines ranging from $250 for a first offense and up to $1,500 for repeat offenders. However, “aggravating” or “mitigating” factors could result in varying penalties, the TSA said.

President Biden last month signed an executive order requiring that travelers wear masks when in airports; at bus, ferry and rail stations; and when flying commercially or riding buses and trains. The order went into effect Tuesday and will stay in place until May 11.

TSA officials said identifying scofflaws will be up to the companies and agencies actually transporting people.

The agency gave airlines, transit agencies, train operators and other transportation managers a telephone number to call to report problem passengers.

“They will report violators to TSA and TSA may penalize those who refuse to wear a mask within the transportation networks,” said TSA spokesman R. Carter Langston.

In a statement, the agency said people subject to the civil penalties will have due process.

“Among their options are the right to an informal conference with TSA,” the statement said.

That process can be a long one, the agency said.

CDC issues sweeping mask mandate for planes, public transportation in U.S.

“Specific data will not be available until after all legal proceedings are completed, which could take an extended period of time,” it said.

Agency officials said their primary effort remains getting people to comply voluntarily.

Southwest Airlines had no comment on the fine, but said it “welcomes the federal mask mandate and any support that enhances safety and strengthens our employees’ ability to enforce Southwest’s mask requirements that were implemented in May of last year.”

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, said the federal mandate sends an important message.

“Clarity for the public is key,” she said. “Our union has been advocating for almost a year for a federal mask mandate in aviation. A federal mandate with public messaging and clear enforcement mechanisms like TSA fines for noncompliance will go far to keeping everyone safe. Clear requirements and consequences up front help us keep problems on the ground.”

While the TSA has strongly encouraged people to wear masks when going through airport security checkpoints, under the previous administration, the agency had no authority to sanction those who refused. Biden’s executive order changes that, giving the TSA and other agencies more tools to enforce the requirement.

Passengers can be asked to leave a station, be denied boarding or asked to leave a train, ferry, bus or airplane. Local agencies also can report scofflaws to the TSA for further action.

The TSA issued the new directives on Jan. 31. For ground transportation, passengers have to be told — when they buy tickets and again before departure — that scofflaws “may be subject to penalties under federal law.”

Transit agencies ramp up mask enforcement

Health experts say that wearing a mask is critical to stopping the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 26 million and killed at least 455,000 in the United States, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. However, the issue of whether people should wear masks became deeply politicized under the Trump administration.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which last year said it would not enforce mask violations, has said it will ensure compliance with the new mandate.