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'Sigh of relief': Aviation experts hopeful lifting mask mandates will reduce unruly passenger incidents

The FAA recorded thousands of unruly passenger incidents during the pandemic, majority related to masks. Industry experts hope this will change with masks optional.

DALLAS — There have always been unruly passengers on airplanes, and there likely will always be. But over the last two years, flight crews have seen an increase in incidents. The majority of those incidents are regarding masks.

This week, many airlines, including Southwest and American Airlines, and airports, including DFW International Airport and Dallas Love Field Airport, are no longer requiring masks and face coverings. 

Aviation experts said this could reduce the number of unruly passengers on planes.

From January 2021 to April 12, 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration recorded 7,131 unruly passenger reports. At least 5,034 of those incidents were mask-related. 

"I have flown and worked throughout the pandemic, and the reality is data shows that there have been more incidents of unruly passengers," said Anna Thompson. 

Thompson is a flight attendant and flight attendant instructor.  

"I would love to see, in general, a return to civility and being respectful and kind toward others," she said.  

Thompson is hopeful that airlines and airports lifting the mask mandate will help reduce the unruly behavior. 

Captain Richard Levy agrees. 

"In my opinion, yes it will," said Levy.  

He's an aviation expert and consultant, who served as a commercial airline pilot for more than 41 years. 

"Some of the conflicts got very serious, so serious that many flight crews had to make the difficult decision, and actually easy decision to land the airplane early. Hopefully, these conflicts are now behind us," said Levy. 

He said with optional masking, crews and passengers will need to respect everyone's individual decisions. 

"You'll see ladies and wearing masks at their own choice, and we respect those wishes," he said. 

For many in the aviation industry, it is a sigh of relief and comfort for crew safety. 

"I do think that there is a collective sigh of relief," Thompson said. "I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone's smiling face again. 

Not in the clear?

Dr. Rajesh Nandy, of the School of Public Health at the UNT Health Science Center, believes the country is not in the clear of COVID-19. He told WFAA that cases are increasing in the metro area. 

Nandy strongly recommends keeping a CDC-approved mask on hand.

"Good idea to have one in hand," Nandy said. "Morbid obese or if you are over 60 or maybe over 70, then I would recommend having some added layer of protection."

That layer of protection should be a mask that will protect you, now that so many travelers are unmasking.

Nandy said, "You actually need to wear like a KN-95 or N-95 masks."

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