Baltimore, MD (Baltimore Jewish Life) – It’s not just the dentists who are coming for you if caught eating candy in 2021; it is now the stewardesses. Mr. Avi Mandel, a 35 year old local business owner living with his wife and five children in Baltimore, MD, was flying solo en route to Miami when a sudden twisted turn of events stalled his journey. A sticky situation no doubt, his immediate removal from Southwest Airlines flight 2109 from BWI to Miami was for a minor infraction. The reason he was removed? Chewing on a twizzler.
It all started after the Southwest Airlines plane shut its doors shortly after 7:30 PM on Sunday April 18th. After an exhausting day, a masked Mr. Mandel who had just spent the previous two hours dutifully masked through a lengthy check-in, security screening, and wait for the flight to arrive, was finally able to relax. It was then when he remembered he hadn’t eaten all day. Sitting in his aisle seat minding his own business Mr. Mandel took out a book and the only piece of food he had on him — a twizzler. Carefully lowering his mask to the chin, Mr. Mandel started munching on the twizzler as the plane taxied down toward the runway. A Southwest Airlines stewardess appeared and told Mr. Mandel to put his mask on to which he replied he was eating. The stewardess continued by demanding he lift the mask over his mouth and nose in between bites. Mandel, who is accustomed to flying multiple times monthly during the pandemic mentioned he had never heard about this rule before. After all, the airline does give pretzels out on flights.
As Mr. Mandel finished up his candy, a vehement voice broke out on the loudspeaker announcing that those who eat must lift their masks while chewing, in between bites. Witnesses from the flight related to BJL how at this point many passengers gave a chuckle and looked around amused, having never heard this peculiar rule on a flight before. Lifting up his mask, Mandel spent the next ten minutes reading as the flight proceeded along the taxiway waiting to take off. About 15 (masked) minutes after he finished eating there was an announcement that the flight was being brought back to the gate. Out of nowhere, the stewardess approached Mr. Mandel, relaying the news: due to non-compliance he must immediately depart the airplane.
Flight patrons and frequent flyers from local families to bystanders watched in shock and dismay as the airline insisted that Mr. Mandel depart the airplane due to noncompliance to the “mask between bites” rule 15 minutes prior. Random bystanders started shouting, “This is so wrong!” , “I was here the whole time, he did not do anything wrong!” Not one to cause conflict, Mandel calmly said he would like to understand what exactly he did wrong to solicit this confrontation. The same stewardess continued the “mask between bites” mantra and would not engage in a conversation about it. She then called airport police to physically escort Mandel off the flight, to which he complied calmly out of respect for the others on board who needed to get to their destinations, albeit severely inconveniencing himself. Mandel noted and reassured, this was certainly not an anti-semitic thing, merely an extreme example of what happens when people get drunk on power, and abuse it.
BJL contacted Southwest Airlines for their side to the story which was not so far from Mr. Mandel’s. The airline told BJL how their reports indicated the customer was eating without wearing a mask for a more prolonged amount of time, in between bites, having not listened to the stewardess’s numerous requests to pull up his mask while eating. The airline also highlighted the following rule:
· The following are times when a Customer may need to briefly remove their mask:
o While eating, drinking, or taking oral medications. Prolonged periods of mask removal are not permitted for eating or drinking; the mask must be worn between bites and sips.
It’s the responsibility of our Crew to enforce federal regulations. ”
BJL followed up inquiring as to whether the “Mask between Bites” was in fact a new rule, to which the airline responded that this was not a unilaterally implemented rule. Rather, as of February 2021 a new Security Directive has been administered as a direct result of President Biden’s Executive Order on the Face Mask Mandate which requires airline patrons to wear facemasks at all times, which includes in between bites. Since Southwest shares the Federal Mandate’s requirements with customers prior to travel – due to Biden’s executive order, it is legally grounds for airline removal.
Mandel responded: “It should be a given that people will have to pull their masks down to eat, especially now when so many have thankfully been vaccinated. Pulling down the mask whether for eating a meal, taking a drink, or having a snack, seems frankly less of an infraction than allowing customers to book middle seats, if you ask me.”
An eyewitness who was sitting right behind Mandel relayed the following. “We were on the runway about to take off. The stewardess passed his seat, pointed to his seat number, and announced we were heading back to the gate. Mr. Mandel was masked the entire time. An employee approached the seat and told him to leave, however he refused because he was masked and doing absolutely nothing wrong. Mr. Mandel relayed that at least he should be given the decency of a calm conversation or explanation why he, a masked and compliant frequent flyer, is being suddenly kicked off a flight. The employee then said that if he does not disembark immediately the entire flight will have to deplane. It was then that he got off.” The eyewitness continued, ” I’m all for being safe, but when you see things like this it makes you fear for your liberty. If you can fill middle seats because it’s better for you financially, then you can’t all of a sudden act self righteous when someone innocently eats a snack.”
As for the ending to Mandel’s story, he was switched to a flight on Monday morning; only this time he will most definitely keep his Twizzlers at home.