Earlier this year, the TSA warned that people who refuse to wear face masks while using public transit, in accordance with a federal mandate, could face hefty fines. It doesn't seem like that heads-up served as much of a deterrent, at least not for a couple of thousand travelers who aren't opening up their wallets to settle that debt. Per TSA data seen by the Hill, there've been 2,413 possible incidents of noncompliance since the mask mandate went into effect in February, with almost 1,700 warning notices already disseminated. But of those incidents, only two travelers have agreed to pay their $250 fines, the TSA says; the rest have challenged the penalty. One possible reason for the pushback: "People ... don't think the federal government could even mandate something like that," an MIT Sloan School of Management risk management analyst tells the Hill. They reject wearing masks "partially as a protest, so it's not surprising they haven't paid the fine."
This news comes against the backdrop of airlines suspending alcohol service on flights to avoid making tense situations worse, and as travelers are seen ignoring the mask mandate in transit hubs. It doesn't help that some right-wing pundits are stoking the anti-mask fire, including youth organizer Charlie Kirk, who earlier this month encouraged his audience at Turning Point USA's summer gathering to play a "game" with TSA officials. "It's a lot of fun," he said, per Salon. "It's how far can you get through the airport without them telling you to put on a mask?" A Carnegie Mellon social sciences professor tells the Hill that, to ensure fines are collected, the TSA should consider something like a disclaimer when travelers purchase tickets that says their credit card will be charged if they don't wear a mask. "There's no sense in having a rule that you have to do this and if you don't do it, you have to pay a fine, and no one actually pays the fine," she says. (Read more TSA stories.)