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Man kicked off American Airlines flight for not wearing mask

An American Airlines plane. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Mandatory face masks for airline flights are already being challenged on planes, putting carriers in the precarious position to threaten and follow through with harsh penalties announced earlier this week.

On Wednesday, a New York man Tweeted that he was “just removed from my flight for not wearing a mask” on an American Airlines flight and a New York Times reporter said that there was a “mutiny” among passengers on his flight from Dallas to Tulsa because a man didn’t want to wear a mask.

After mandating that customers wear masks more than a month ago, airlines cracked down on stubborn travelers this week with threats that passengers may be prohibited from future flights if they don’t abide by face-covering rules.

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The CDC has asked that people wear face masks in public to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Every major carrier has required that masks be worn on board, but for the first few weeks didn’t enforce the rules once planes had pulled back from terminals in order to keep flights moving.

That changed this week, when a coalition of airlines said there would be increased penalties, with American, Delta and United all saying passengers could lose future flight privileges for not complying. Dallas-based Southwest said it was making passengers sign a “health declaration” that they will comply with rules, including face masks.

But with more than 441,000 passengers entering U.S. airports on Wednesday, there were bound to be some that didn’t agree with the policies.

The Twitterverse went crazy over one passenger, Brandon Straka, a New York hair stylist who describes himself as a “former liberal” and founder of the WalkAway Campaign encouraging liberals to defect from the Democratic Party. He has been an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump on social media.

Straka’s encounter was first reported by Forbes. He tweeted Thursday morning that he’s been “inundated with death threats, attacks on social media and email.”

“The past 24 hrs has proven conclusively to me what I already knew,” he wrote. “… None of these ppl have asked if I there’s a reason why I couldn’t wear the mask. They are just another arm of the left’s rageful mob.”

Airlines said exceptions will be made to mask policies for those with medical conditions and that masks can be removed for people to eat. Straka was correct that there is no law in the U.S. requiring that airline passengers wear face masks, a point that airline unions are taking issue with.

“The FAA needs a rule mandating face masks,” said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association representing American Airlines’ 15,000 pilots. “We may have very good people surrounding that passenger that become very passionate about the risk they are being placed in.”

The Allied Pilots Association was critical of the initial face mask mandate because there were no penalties. The union applauded airlines this week for increasing enforcement. But Tajer said that federal officials need to step up with a rule to resolve any ambiguity.

“It’s a rare few that have decided to make this their choice,” Tajer said. ” It’s not fair to all the other passengers for the Department of Transportation and the FAA to not join us in this.”

On Wednesday, Federal Aviation Administration Stephen Dickson told a U.S. Senate committee that “passengers should wear face coverings while traveling by air, for their own protection and the protection of those around them.” But he also said that the FAA’s “space is safety and not public health” so the agency will not be mandating face masks.

American Airlines confirmed that Straka was asked to leave after declining to comply with the company’s face mask policy. The plane left from LaGuardia four minutes late, but still managed to arrive early at DFW Airport after the incident.

“Mr. Straka stated to our airport team members that he would comply with our policies, and was rebooked on a later flight. Our team is reviewing this incident, and we have reached out to Mr. Straka to get more information,” the company said.

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© 2020 The Dallas Morning News