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American Airlines Flight Turns Back Over Passenger Mask Dispute

todayJanuary 20, 2022

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An American Airlines flight to London from Miami turned around about an hour into its journey on Wednesday night because of a passenger who refused to follow coronavirus masking rules, the airline said.

Police officers met Flight AAL38 at Miami International Airport when it returned, but it was not immediately clear if they had detained or charged anyone. The Miami-Dade Police Department and Miami International Airport did not immediately respond to phone and email requests for comment early Thursday.

The Boeing 777, carrying 129 passengers and 14 crew members, was about 500 miles into its 4,400-mile flight when it reversed course off the coast of North Carolina, flight trackers show.

American Airlines said in a statement that the flight had been diverted because of “a disruptive customer refusing to comply with the federal mask requirement.”

The episode was another in a long list of midair mask disputes that have erupted during the pandemic.

In October, a passenger was accused of punching an American Airlines flight attendant in her nose, giving her a concussion, after a mask dispute. The airline’s chief executive called the violent encounter on the California-bound flight from New York “one of the worst displays of unruly behavior we’ve ever witnessed.”

In May, a California woman on a Southwest Airlines flight repeatedly punched a flight attendant, bloodying her face and chipping three teeth, after she was asked to buckle her seatbelt, put up her tray table and “wear her face mask properly.”

Thousands of other episodes involving unruly passengers have taken place in recent years, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. As of Tuesday, the agency said, it had received 151 reports of unruly passengers, 92 related to face masks, since Jan. 1. Last year, it received 5,981 reports of unruly passengers and 4,290 mask-related incidents.

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