At this point in the pandemic, we shouldn’t need to tell you (again) why it’s important to wear a face mask while on a plane. This is not a new concept—but what is new is the fine structure the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced on Friday.
If wearing a mask to protect yourself from getting infected and/or for the greater good wasn’t motivation enough, maybe the risk of a fine will be. Here’s what to know.
Many airlines have had policies requiring passengers to wear face masks since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, unlike after 9/11, when there were federal mandates requiring significant changes to airport security, individual airlines haven’t been held to an industry standard.
That changed on February 2, 2021, when President Joe Biden’s executive order mandating face masks across all transportation sectors went into effect. This mask mandate will be enforced starting when you drop off checked baggage at an airline’s desk or proceed through the TSA security screening process. There are two exceptions: for children under the age of 2, as well as for people with disabilities who are unable to wear a face mask.
Anyone who refuses to wear a mask at the TSA checkpoint will not be permitted to proceed to the terminal and gate area, and will be subject to a civil penalty. On Feb. 5, the TSA announced that the civil penalty will be enforced in the form of fines—starting at $250 for a person’s first offense, and going up to $1,500 for repeat offenders.
However, there appears to be a little wiggle room for the TSA: “Based on substantial aggravating or mitigating factors, TSA may seek a sanction amount that falls outside these ranges,” the agency said in a statement.
TSA has also provided instructions to airlines and other transportation system operators for how to report violations to the mask mandate so it can issue penalties when necessary.