Travelers who refuse to wear a mask in airports, bus stations and rail stations, as well as while aboard planes, buses and trains, can face a fine of $250 for the first offense and up to $1,500 for repeat offenses under President Biden’s executive order on COVID-19 safety.
The Transportation Security Administration clarified Friday that its agents will enforce the new fine and that flight attendants, bus operators and other transportation employees have the authority to report violators to the agency. The TSA said its agents have the option of imposing a lower or even higher fine if there are substantial mitigating or aggravating factors.
The fine is the result of an executive order signed by Biden on Jan. 23 to require masks be worn in compliance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Under the guidelines, masks must completely cover the wearer’s nose and mouth, fit snugly against the side of the face and lack any slits, holes or exhalation valves. If they are made of cloth, they must have at least two layers of tightly woven fabric.
Most airlines began to require that passengers wear face coverings starting in May, but the Trump administration refused to adopt a federal regulation that would impose a fine on violators. Instead, airlines enforced the mask policy by banning violators from flying in the future. The nation’s largest carriers have so far banned from flying more than 3,000 passengers who violated the mask policy, according to travel site The Points Guy.
Amtrak, the national passenger railroad, and Greyhound, the intercity bus company, have both required all passengers to wear masks for months and say they have enforced the policy by removing violators from the trains or buses at the next stop.
Amtrak officials said passengers who don’t follow its face-covering policy may also be turned over at the next stop to local law enforcement for causing a disturbance.
The federal mask rules “will help prevent further spread of COVID-19 and encourage a unified government response,” said Darby LaJoye, the senior official performing the duties of the TSA administrator. “As we continue to experience impacts from this pandemic, we are committed to this measure as the right thing to do for the TSA workforce, for our industry stakeholders and for passengers.”
TSA officers and agents have already been hit hard by the virus, especially at Los Angeles International Airport.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 6,481 TSA employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 14 have died. LAX leads all other airports in the number of TSA employees who have contracted the virus, with 437, followed by Miami International Airport with 286 and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York with 283, according to the TSA.