More than 1,700 air passengers on Canadian carriers refused to wear face masks during flights in 2021, resulting in notification letters being sent to 428 passengers and another 501 letters of non-compliance, according to new data released by Transport Canada.
The numbers, reported by CBC, point to a rising trend in unruly airplane behaviour that began escalating last year as more passengers take issue with onboard COVID-19 protocols.
According to Transport Canada’s latest figures, 30 passengers were actually fined in 2021 for refusing to wear a mask – although it’s unclear as to how much the fines were.
It’s believed the majority of air travellers are following the rules. WestJet, for instance, has banned 163 customers since Sept. 1, 2020 for refusing to wear a mask, according to CBC News. That represents less than one per cent of passengers who flew with the airline during that period.
The action taken to address passengers who refuse in-flight face masks varies in nature.
Between January and December 2021, Transport Canada received 1,710 reports of passengers refusing to wear face masks. In seven cases, passengers were denied from boarding the plane. In 108 cases, passengers who had boarded were ordered to leave the plane.
In the majority of cases — 1,594 — passengers refused to wear their mask or to put their masks back after they had finished eating or drinking.
Wesley Lesosky, head of the Canadian Union of Public Employees' Airline Division, which represents 14,000 flight attendants with nine Canadian airlines, says Canadians, tired of the pandemic, are ignoring mask rules more often.
The problem, Lesosky told CBC, is getting worse.
"We're constantly having to be mask police, we're constantly having to ask them to put their mask on, we're constantly having follow up with them to put their masks on," Lesosky told the news outlet. "Then, on the other hand, we're serving them meals and drinks to remove their mask."
Last month, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), reported that the rate of unruly passenger incidents doubled in 2020 and the trend continued into 2021.
One airline member reported more than 1,000 incidents in a single week, IATA said. “Incidents have even resulted in diversions, including a flight from Paris to Delhi,” the association wrote.
In-flight mask requirements due to pandemic protocols have been a contentious flashpoint in the United States as well.
In the U.S., more than 5,400 reports of unruly passengers were made as of Nov. 30, with nearly 4,000 of them involving masks, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority.
Onboard aviation rules have recently come into the spotlight following the now-infamous Sunwing “party plane” incident in which maskless partiers on a Dec. 30 charter flight from Montreal to Cancun posted footage on social media showing people sharing an open liquor bottle, smoking an e-cigarette and crowding in the aisles.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has already issued at least 12 fines to individuals for non-compliance with COVID-19 requirements, reports say.
PHAC, in that same file, is also reportedly following up on several “suspected fraudulent cases” on non-respecting quarantine after returning to Canada.
The passengers involved could face fines of up to $5,000 for each offence on board, Transport Canada said in a statement, as well, steeper fines or even face jail time if anyone was found to be endangering others, or if they provided falsified information upon returning to Canada.