U.S. doubles fines for people who disobey mask rule on planes and public transit

Passengers aboard a Southwest Airlines flight
Passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight from Burbank to Las Vegas on June 3.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

The U.S. is doubling the fine for people who break the rule requiring masks on planes, trains and other forms of public transit to slow the spread of COVID-19, with President Biden warning Thursday that violators should “be prepared to pay.”

First-time offenders will face a potential fine of $500 to $1,000 and second-time offenders could pay $1,000 to $3,000 under rules that the Transportation Security Administration said will go into effect Friday.

Previously, the fine started at $250 and could go up to $1,500 for repeat offenders.

“If you break the rules, be prepared to pay,” Biden said, announcing the increase during a speech outlining sweeping new federal vaccine requirements as part of an effort to increase COVID-19 shots and curb the surging Delta variant.


Premium meals are back on the menu at the nation’s airlines after they pared back offerings for COVID-19 safety. Expect a different dining experience.

Aug. 27, 2021

The president also rebuked people who have been taking out their anger about the mask requirement on flight crews.

“And by the way, show some respect,” he said. “The anger you see on television toward flight attendants and others doing their job is wrong. It’s ugly.”

The mask penalties are separate from any civil penalties the Federal Aviation Administration may issue for unruly behavior.

The mask mandate has led to many tense encounters between passengers who don’t want to wear a mask and flight attendants asked to enforce the rule. The FAA said last month that airlines have reported 3,889 incidents involving unruly passengers this year, out of which 2,867 — or 74% — involved refusal to wear a mask.

An Ohio man was arrested after being accused of groping two female flight attendants and punching a male flight attendant while en route to Miami.

Aug. 4, 2021

The rule requiring masks on planes and all public transit will remain in effect until at least Jan. 18, the Department of Homeland Security said.


DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said masks will be required “as long as necessary” to protect public health amid the pandemic.

The mask order, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for responding to the pandemic, was first issued Jan. 29, days after Biden took office. Before that, airlines had their own requirements for face coverings, but former President Trump’s administration had declined to make it a federal rule.