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Alaska Legislature

Eagle River lawmaker scolds Alaska Airlines over mask policy that helps protect passengers and employees from coronavirus infection

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: November 17, 2020
  • Published November 16, 2020

In this May 18, 2020 photo, Alaska state Sen. Lora Reinbold, center, is shown on the Senate floor in Juneau. Health screenings were required of legislative staff and media at the Alaska Capitol, though lawmakers could skip it. Protocols said masks were required. But Reinbold didn't wear one. “It didn’t make sense to me,” Reinbold said. "I saw no research on cloth, silk, cotton face coverings ... that they prevent COVID.” (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

An Alaska state senator is criticizing Alaska Airlines for requiring passengers to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a social media post, Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, referred to airline staff as “mask bullies” and the airline itself as “part of mask tyranny” after being asked by flight attendants to wear a mask aboard a recent flight.

Reinbold, who was returning to Alaska, said in a follow-up post that people should bypass the mandatory COVID tests for passengers flying into Alaska from Outside. “Sneak by if you are bold (for) they cannot force you,” she wrote. Both posts appeared on her personal Facebook page and spread from there.

Alaska Airlines, the principal air carrier in Alaska, has required passengers to wear masks since May.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Alaska health officials are urging people to wear masks, particularly when it is impossible for people to stay six feet apart from each other. Several scientific studies have proven that mask use reduces COVID-19 transmission.

Alaska is seeing surging COVID-19 case numbers, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy last week issued an emergency message to cellphones across the state.

“For the next three weeks, I am asking you as the governor of Alaska, that we do everything possible to reduce these cases and bend this trend downward,” he said in his message.

In her post, Reinbold said flight attendants talked to her “because a scaredy-cat Karen whined loudly and was a (tattletale) when I took my dumb, worthless, suffocating mask off, a bit longer than she wanted, for my food and drink."

Alaska Airlines reiterated its policy.

“We are aware of the social media post from State Senator Lora Reinbold regarding her recent travel on Alaska Airlines," said Tim Thompson, the airline’s director of external affairs, in a written statement. "For the safety of all our guests and employees, our policy is that a cloth face mask or covering is required for the duration of the flight. Masks must cover the nose and mouth and should only be removed when briefly eating or drinking. Masks with valves, mesh material or holes of any kind are not be allowed. After being reminded onboard, the senator complied with these requirements and completed her journey.”

The airline can ban passengers who refuse to wear masks onboard, and Thompson said Reinbold has not been banned.

Reinbold said on Monday she opposes mandates that require masks and wrote her first post quickly on her cellphone while aboard a plane.

“I do believe requiring masks is an infringement on civil rights. Non-medical staff should not be giving medical advice,” she said by text message. “Giving medical advice without a medical license could create liability for businesses. I support people’s right to wear a mask, but not mandating them. Businesses are crossing a fine line mandating them.”

“Alaska Airlines has a semi monopoly on Alaska,” she said. “For example, (they) are the only option flying to Juneau in the winter. Many Alaskans are dependent on Alaska Airlines. My question: Should corporations be involved in our healthcare decisions?”

She asked why, if Alaska Airlines cares about passengers' health, they serve “sugary soda drinks.”

Thompson was asked Reinbold’s questions.

“I can only add that during this unprecedented pandemic, we are committed to keeping both our guests and employees healthy and safe every time they fly with us," he said.

Asked about her followup post encouraging people to bypass the testing lines at airports, she said, “COVID-19 tests are controversial, expensive — costing visitors $250 — and violate civil rights. The COVID-19 money should be used to help the numerous businesses that are suffering across the state."

COVID-19 testing is free at airports for Alaskans returning to the state from Outside. Non-residents must provide proof of a negative test or pay $250 to be tested at the airport.

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