By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said Thursday it has recently ramped up proposed fines for travelers failing to wear masks at airports and in other transit modes.
The TSA said it has proposed $85,990 fines for 190 mask violators through Monday after more than 5,000 reported incidents since February 2 and issued warnings to more than 2,200.
On Monday, two U.S. lawmakers in the House of Representatives disclosed had issued just $2,350 in total fines to 10 passengers through mid-September, despite thousands of reports of airport travelers failing to comply.
House Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson and Bonnie Watson Coleman, who chairs the House transportation subcommittee, said despite 4,102 reports of mask-related incidents TSA had issued just 10 fines through Sept. 13.
“We urge you to implement these enhanced penalties to curb the rising number of mask-related disruptive passenger incidents,” the lawmakers wrote.
The TSA said Thursday it has “taken steps to make enforcement and compliance more meaningful, including by increasing the penalties, reducing the processing time from receipt of incident reports to the issuance of enforcement actions and frequent and routine interaction with air carriers to improve incident reporting.”
The agency also said almost 200 people have faced criminal penalties. TSA Administrator David Pekoske in July said since the start of the pandemic there have been over 85 physical assaults on TSA officers.
In August, the TSA extended mask requirements on airplanes, trains and buses and at airports and train stations through Jan. 18 to address COVID-19 risks.
The requirements, first imposed in early February, have been the source of some friction, especially aboard U.S. airlines, where some travelers have refused to wear masks.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which has instituted a “zero tolerance” enforcement effort on unruly passengers, through Monday has received 4,941 unruly passenger reports – including 3,580 mask-related incidents.
Last month, the TSA said it was doubling penalties for violating the transportation mask mandate: $500-$1000 for first offenders and $1000-$3000 for second offenders.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Alistair Bell)