Let's forgive the mask offenders on planes
The airline passengers who acted up during the pandemic aren't the only ones who deserve amnesty
I'll probably get myself into trouble for saying this, but we should forgive the passengers who refused to wear a mask on their flights during the pandemic. They may deserve to be on the airlines' no-fly list, but most of them should get a second chance.
And they are getting one. Last week, Alaska Airlines, American, Delta and United said they would reverse their bans on passengers who refused to wear a face covering on a "case-by-case" basis. We had an animated discussion about airline amnesty in our Friday Forum.
I have my reasons for allowing mask scofflaws to board the aircraft again. And they aren't the only ones who deserve a little leniency. Airlines have a long list of "offenders" who they should also let back in. I also think this exercise of clemency has broader applications for airlines — and travelers.
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Why we should forgive mask offenders
During the pandemic, domestic airlines banned thousands of passengers for failing to follow the federal mask rules. But shortly after a federal judge in Florida struck down the mask mandate, the carriers quickly lifted their face-covering policies. Then they announced that violators who were on their no-fly list would be welcomed back on a "case-by-case" basis. Specifically, the violent or disruptive mask offenders would remain on the list, but the rest would be able to return.
Airlines are free to do whatever they want with these problem passengers. They can ban them, unban them, or upgrade them to business class for all I care. But I think they deserve to be forgiven because everyone makes mistakes. If you so strongly disagreed with the mask rules — without being violent or disruptive — that your airline banned you, then up to two years in no-fly prison is probably enough punishment. And if you received a fine for violating the mask rules, you've paid your debt to society. It's time to move on.
If they ever bring back a mask mandate, maybe the face-covering objectors will be smart enough to drive instead of fly. But either way, I hope they've learned their lesson.
By the way, I think it's almost impossible to set up a federal no-fly list now that the airlines have voluntarily stricken thousands of names from their banned passenger lists. Who is left besides violent offenders, whose names probably deserve to be on the terrorist watchlist because their behavior truly terrorized the flight crew?
Ultimately, unbanning passengers is good for business: the more passengers who can fly, the more revenue for airlines. And airlines love themselves some revenue.
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Who else deserves forgiveness from airlines?
While we're at it, I think the airlines should consider forgiving a few other groups of passengers. For example:
Passengers who booked "illegal" tickets. Illegal tickets like "back-to-back" or "hidden city" tickets try to circumvent absurd airline rules that squeeze more money from passengers. They aren’t illegal because they violate no laws; they just deprive airlines of revenue, which is hardly a crime. I've heard from thousands of passengers who booked these tickets (sometimes inadvertently) only to receive a debit memo from their travel agent. If they didn't pay the fare differential, the airline threatened to blacklist them. It's time to welcome them back.
People who have violated their frequent flier program agreements. Loyalty programs are so incomprehensible, it's no wonder there's a long list of violators. Most lose their points or status, but it effectively removes their reason to fly on the airline. Isn't it time to open the door to them again? As with the mask amnesty, there should be exceptions to this rule. Anyone who publishes a blog with the word "points" in the name, or who helps readers find erroneously low fares, should remain on the list because they are the equivalent of violent offenders, at least when it comes to gaming the system. But I digress.
Anyone involved in a nonviolent onboard offense. The inbox of my consumer advocacy organization is full of people who were involved in verbal altercations with airline crew and who later found themselves kicked off their flight. Their "crime" apparently was disagreeing with the cabin attendants. Often, no federal charges are filed, but their names are added to the no-fly list. Some of these argumentative passengers have been on the list for years without hope of ever getting off. Don't they deserve a little mercy?
Who else deserves to be forgiven?
I'm not holding my breath on a general amnesty for passengers who lost their points, status and ability to book a ticket. But there is something that's within our control. We can forgive the folks across the aisle who have fought with us since the start of the pandemic.
You know who they are. One one side, it's the ones who mocked face masks as "face diapers" and called Fauci an idiot. On the other, it's readers who wore two N-95 masks whenever they left home and got quadruple-vaxxed.
I've seen these two groups go after each other in the comments, trading insults despite my best efforts to keep the discussion on track. It's too bad because we have so much in common as travelers. Are we really going to let masks — masks! — drive a wedge between us? That seems so petty.
Of course, airlines will never welcome back their disgraced elites, the passengers who broke one of their ticket rules, or the customers who argued with crew members. That's their decision. But you can reach across the aisle and make your peace with the person you pummeled in the comments during the pandemic. Maybe forgiveness starts with a single olive branch — from you.
After all, aren't we flying on the same plane?
Are you in a forgiving mood?
It’s been a long pandemic. Are you inclined to forgive those who disagreed with you on masking, social distancing and the pandemic in general? Or are have you unfriended them forever?
About the art
Dustin Elliott found inspiration in his latest piece from Thomas The Tank Engine (reimagined as an airplane) with a little Alfred E. Neuman and Alfred Hitchcock for good measure. It symbolizes the absurdity and confusion of post-pandemic travel.
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