Alaska Airlines bans Eagle River lawmaker for violating COVID-19 mask policy

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James Brooks, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska
·3 min read
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Apr. 25—JUNEAU — Alaska Airlines said Saturday that it has banned state Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, from its flights for continuing to refuse to follow mask-wearing requirements for travelers.

"We have notified Senator Lora Reinbold that she is not permitted to fly with us for her continued refusal to comply with employee instruction regarding the current mask policy," spokesman Tim Thompson said by email.

"This suspension is effective immediately, pending further review. Federal law requires all guests to wear a mask over their nose and mouth at all times during travel, including throughout the flight, during boarding and deplaning, and while traveling through an airport," he said.

The ban cast uncertainty on how Reinbold might rejoin the Alaska Senate when legislative work resumes Monday. No other airline has regularly scheduled direct flights between Anchorage and Juneau.

But it appeared as though Reinbold was pursuing an alternate travel solution: On Saturday night, Reinbold told an anti-mask group that she was "en route to Juneau" and had pulled her car over to the side of the road to talk.

"I have an unexpected trip that I am taking that is a little bit confidential," Reinbold told the group. She did not answer a text message asking whether she was driving to Haines or Skagway, which had scheduled ferry service to Juneau on Sunday afternoon. Driving to either location requires going through Canada, which has implemented strict pandemic travel restrictions.

Thompson, with Alaska Airlines, said the length of Reinbold's ban will be determined after a review. Alaska Airlines has banned 506 people as of Friday.

Reinbold said in a message to a Daily News reporter Saturday — after telling the anti-mask group she was en route to Juneau by car — that she had not been notified of a ban.

Thompson said he was not able to provide a copy of the notice sent to Reinbold, "but the notice was received."

"I hope to be on an Alaska Airlines flight in the near future," Reinbold said earlier Saturday.

Reinbold has been vocal in her objections to COVID-19 mitigation measures in the Alaska Capitol and in public and has repeatedly objected to Alaska Airlines' mask policy, which was enacted in 2020 before the federal government began requiring masks aboard aircraft and public transportation earlier this year.

Last year, she referred to airline staff as "mask bullies" and the airline itself as "part of mask tyranny" after being asked by Alaska Airlines flight attendants to wear a mask aboard a flight. After the incident, she sent a cake to some airline flight attendants. The cake bore an inscription saying, "I'm sorry if I offended you."

The airline's ban comes after an incident this week at Juneau International Airport in which Reinbold was recorded apparently arguing with airport and Alaska Airlines staff about the mask policies.

A video posted to social media by the Alaska Landmine website appears to show part of the incident. A Juneau Police Department officer responded to the scene.

"JPD has an officer staffed at the airport full time, so we would be present or in the area of any issues there, but we didn't take any enforcement action," said Lt. Krag Campbell, a spokesman for the department.

The airport's manager said surveillance video of the incident would be released only by court order.

Reinbold addressed the situation in a text message.

"I was reasonable with all Alaska Airlines employees," she said. "I have been flying on Alaska Air for decades and am an MVP Gold (frequent flyer). I inquired about mask exemption with uptight employees at the counter."

She said the timing of the complaint "and a specific employee" is of keen interest.

"I have been assured this (will) be looked into," she said.

Reinbold was able to board a flight to Anchorage and said it was a "pleasant, safe flight with happy flight attendants and great, talented pilots."

Lawmakers can participate in committee meetings by teleconference but cannot vote on the House or Senate floor remotely under current procedures.