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Mark Alexander / Sep. 17, 2020

Federal Marshal Must Remove Flag Mask

Gate agent tells air marshal his flag mask might offend other passengers.

Last week, an Allegiant Air passenger was removed from a flight for insisting that a flight attendant abide by the same masking rules with which passengers are required to comply. Masking issues have caused numerous confrontations on flights.

But recently, I was alerted by a senior Federal Air Marshal (FAM) that one of his colleagues flying out of Atlanta International Airport was asked by a Frontier Airlines gate attendant to remove his mask. The FAM in question was wearing a gaiter mask with a flag, and, according to the marshal, the minority female attendant insisted that the mask might make other passengers uncomfortable. I was aware that FAMs in other major cities have experienced similar responses from gate personnel when boarding with masks that display similar patriotic themes. I confirmed this report firsthand.

This incident prompted a quick rebuke from the Air Marshal National Council, which represents Federal Air Marshals: “We wanted to bring a despicable and unacceptable event to your attention. Recently, a Federal Air Marshal, on mission status, was stopped by a Frontier gate agent from boarding the aircraft due to an issue with the American Flag Mask/Gaiter he was wearing. Originally, the FAM was told the gaiter-style mask was not compliant. The gate agent provided a replacement surgical style mask, the FAM was polite and put on the surgical mask, then covered the surgical mask with the original American Flag mask. This was not good enough for the gate agent, and the FAM was asked to remove his American Flag mask before boarding the flight. The FAM did not want to bring attention to himself or his team working the flight. It is to be noted the FAM was the only passenger with an American Flag Mask, but there were many other passengers wearing a variety of mask while boarding the plane, to include a half a dozen BLM masks. None of these passengers were stopped nor asked by the Airline to change their mask. This double standard will not be tolerated.”

Frontier Airlines responded to the complaint, insisting: “The matter was a clear misunderstanding on the part of both parties. The gate agent mistakenly believed that the passenger’s gaiter style mask was not acceptable within our mask policy and the passenger grossly misinterpreted the reasoning behind her objection to his mask.” According to Frontier CEO Barry Biffle, “Although we do allow gaiter style masks and the agent misinterpreted our policy, her objection to the FAM’s original mask in no way related to its American flag emblem.”

So, a veteran Federal Air Marshal “grossly misinterpreted the reasoning” because it was “in no way related to its American flag emblem”? According to the FAM, that is factually inaccurate — a lie. Meanwhile, the BLM masks were acceptable.

Representative Doug Collins (R-GA) responded: “Assuming your mask policy does not prohibit passengers from wearing two masks, it is clear that your gate agent did not simply misinterpret the policy. This infringement of a law enforcement officer’s right to free speech was clearly a decision made by one of your gate agents based on their own politics. … To be clear, no airline should infringe upon a passenger’s First Amendment rights, much less those of a law enforcement officer traveling for the very purpose of protecting your passengers, because other passengers might find their patriotic clothing ‘offensive.’”

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