The US government can help reduce the incidence of unruly air passenger behavior by doing away with the requirement that travellers wear face coverings, says the chief executive of Spirit Airlines.

“That’s got to be the next step – when facial [covering requirements] are relaxed on airplanes,” CEO Ted Christie says during the Routes Americas conference on 23 June. “That is going to take a lot of steam out of things.”

Spirit A319 Max KJ FG

Source: Max Kingsley-Jones/FlightGlobal

Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle agrees: face coverings are a prime contributor to a string of recent in-flight disruptions.

“The reality is, a lot of people don’t want to wear masks,” says Biffle, who also spoke at the event. “You don’t have to wear a mask here, you don’t have to wear [masks] at Walmart, but yet you’ve got to do it on a plane.”

“People are agitated,” he adds.

In January, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mandated that air travellers must wear face masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, the FAA has reported a surge in incidents involving allegations of unruly, even violent, passengers – events the FAA has said are often related to the face mask requirement.

“The masks make everyone uncomfortable, and it does drive a lot of friction,” Christie says. “We are going to have to make a step here, where we are creating less abrasive” conditions.

The FAA responded to the trend by instituting a “zero tolerance” policy and dishing out hefty fines – some in the tens of thousands of dollars – to a number of passengers accused of airborne outbursts.

“We are focusing on the symptom, rather than the root cause,” says Biffle, adding that such disturbances are uncommon but become high-profile thanks to social media. “The root cause is…. you’ve got to [war a mask] on a plane.”