Texas woman faces 20-year prison sentence after plane mask row

Altercation left flight attendant with injuries, the court heard

Lucy Thackray
Thursday 18 November 2021 10:44 GMT
The incident took place on a United Airlines flight in June
The incident took place on a United Airlines flight in June (Getty Images)

US authorities have taken a Texas woman to court for allegedly assaulting a flight attendant over a mask-related disagreement - charges that could result in up to 20 years in prison.

On Friday Houston’s federal court heard that Debby Dutton, 50, was travelling on a United Airlines flight from Alaska to San Francisco on 29 June when cabin crew spotted that her sleeping husband was not wearing his mask.

According to airline staff, a flight attendant had tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to put his mask back on before landing when Dutton took exception to the instruction.

She is accused of becoming verbally abusive with the crew member, screaming “You don’t touch my husband, why you wake him!” and pushing them multiple times.

The court heard that the “painful and forceful” physical interaction had left the crew member with injuries, for which they later sought medical attention.

"The passenger asked his wife Dutton to return to her seat, which Dutton eventually did. The flight attendant immediately reported the incident to the captain," state court reports.

The US currently has a federal mask mandate in place, which applies to all airlines and airports across the country.

Dutton has been charged with one count of interference by assault, threat, or intimidation with flight crew members or attendants.

The maximum sentence for this charge is 20 years in prison and a fine.

Last week, airline association IATA reported that incidents of mask rage and non-compliance on flights had doubled in 2020, and that the trend has continued into 2021.

The travel body said that one of its member airlines had reported 1,000 incidents of non-compliance in a single week.

On top of this, the US’s Federal Airline Association (FAA) reported 4,600 incidents between January and early October 2021 - 72 per cent of which related to non-compliance with the country’s federal mandate to wear a mask on all planes and in airports.

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