Millions of passengers have been left stranded at airports over the past month, as every major U.S. airline has been hit with flight delays and cancellations. By the first week of January, nearly 20,000 flights had been canceled to and from the U.S. since Christmas Eve, largely due to ongoing staffing shortages because of the Omicron variant, but also unpredictable winter weather, per CNBC. Some airlines have preemptively dropped scheduled trips over the next two months, but many airlines are being forced to cancel flights last-minute. And recently, passengers on one flight found out what it's like to have a flight canceled when it's already en route to its destination. Read on to find out what just caused an American Airlines flight to get diverted.
American Airlines just diverted one of its flight back to its starting point.
An American Airlines flight was about an hour into its journey from Miami to London on Jan. 20 when it was turned around, The New York Times reported. Flight trackers from FlightAware show that the Boeing 777 plane, which was carrying 129 passengers and 14 crew members, was roughly 500 miles into its 4,400-mile flight when it reversed course off the coast of North Carolina. Flight AAL38 returned to Miami International Airport, where police officers were waiting, according to the newspaper.
The airline said the flight was turned around over a mask dispute.
According to American Airlines, a COVID mask dispute is what caused the flight's abrupt cancellation. Under a mandate from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), all passengers traveling with U.S. airlines are still required to wear a face covering aboard flights, through at least March 18 of this year.
"American Airlines flight 38 with service from Miami (MIA) to London (LHR) returned to MIA due to a disruptive customer refusing to comply with the federal mask requirement," the airline said in a statement, per CNN. "The flight landed safely at MIA where local law enforcement met the aircraft. We thank our crew for their professionalism and apologize to our customers for the inconvenience."
The Miami-Dade Police Department escorted the non-compliant passenger, who officers described as a woman in her 40s, off the aircraft upon arrival back to the airport, as reported by Insider. Miami-Dade Detective Argemis Colome told the news outlet that the passenger was not detained or charged as a result of the incident.
"She was escorted off the plane, but there was no further incident after that," Colome said. "Her outcome was pretty much dealt with by the American Airlines staff. They dealt with that administratively and that was it."
The passenger has been banned from flying with the airline.
American Airlines said the traveler has been banned from flying with the airline, pending investigation. The woman was placed on the airline's "internal refuse list," which operates as a no-fly list for unruly passengers, particularly those who refuse to follow the mandatory mask policy. This is not the first time American Airlines has banned travelers for not wearing coverings aboard their planes, but the carrier has refused to reveal just how many people are on its list.
Other U.S. airlines have their own records as well, with Delta Air Lines having about 1,200 passengers on its internal no-fly list as of May 2021, Frontier having more than 830, United having 750, and Alaska Airlines having 542, according to the Los Angeles Times.
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Thousands of mask-related incidents were reported by airlines last year.
Mask incidents on planes are hardly uncommon these days. Out of 5,981 unruly passenger reports from airline crews in 2021, 4,290 were related to masks, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). And while numbers appear to already be lower at the start of this year compared to the record highs seen this same time last year, these issues are still occurring. The agency has received 151 unruly passenger reports as of Jan. 18, with 91 of these incidents being related to face masks.
"Let me be clear: I have zero tolerance for dangerous behavior on airplanes," FAA Administrator Steve Dickson tweeted on Dec. 16. "It could cost you a big fine or jail time. Wear a mask, respect the crew and follow their instructions. They are there for your safety."