NORTH CAROLINA, USA — An American Airlines flight from North Carolina to the Bahamas was delayed overnight after a group of students refused to comply with the federal mask mandate, according to the airline.
Flight 893 was scheduled to take off Monday morning from Charlotte Douglas International Airport at 9:30 a.m. but was initially delayed due to mechanical issues that forced flyers to switch planes.
Stephanie Krzywanski, a passenger on the flight, said that as travelers were being boarded onto the new aircraft, some of the passengers refused to wear their face masks.
"There was a group of high school seniors celebrating their graduation that was being rowdy and not listening and not wearing their mask," she said.
American Airlines confirmed Krzywanski's account of what happened.
"Per procedure, the customers involved were asked to exit the aircraft. We expect our customers to comply with our policies when they choose to fly with us, and we take action when that is not the case," American Airlines said in a statement.
The conflict created what the airline called an "extended delay" with the Monday flight ultimately being rescheduled for Tuesday morning. The airline said it provided all passengers with meal vouchers and hotel rooms ahead of their rescheduled flight Tuesday.
"They (the flight crew) really deserve to be recognized for what they did," Krzywanski told NBC's Charlotte affiliate WCNC in a video call from the aircraft.
Breakaway Beach, the travel company that booked the student trip from Boston to Nassau, told NBC that only one or two members of the group of 47 high school graduates acted in a manner that resulted in them being removed from the aircraft. One person was escorted off the plane but was not ticketed or charged. The company said the actions of this passenger resulted in the entire group of graduates being labeled "unruly" and "disruptive."
Breakaway Beach also placed the blame on American Airlines, saying the mechanical issues resulted in an hours-long delay on the tarmac, during which some of the students "may have removed their masks" due to no air-conditioning, poor ventilation and "quite unbearable conditions."
The company noted the group of students was not allowed to board the second aircraft and American Airlines postponed the flight because the plane's crew was over hours and they couldn't find a replacement pilot.
And while most passengers received vouchers for accommodations, Breakaway Beach said American Airlines told the group of graduates they would not be given an overnight hotel because they were "underage." The tour company said it provided hotel and food, as well as a separate airport transfer on Tuesday because of other passengers' hostility over "their perceived responsibility for postponing the flight."
American Airlines allowed the group to board Tuesday morning's flight after they all agreed to comply with the mask mandate.
"I think it's a bad, bad idea for them to let a bunch of kids that everyone is angry with back on the plane," Krzywanski said Monday.
Flightaware tracking data shows the rescheduled Flight 893 arrived at Nassau Lynden Pindling International Airport on time at 11:50 a.m. Tuesday.
Since the beginning of 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration says it has received more than 3,200 reports of unruly behavior by passengers and roughly 75% of those cases stem from passengers who refuse to comply with federal mask mandates.
Current federal mask mandates require that travelers on trains, buses, commercial flights and at airports wear face masks. The mandate, which was extended in the spring, is currently set to expire on Sept. 13.
The FAA has handed out fines to unruly travelers totaling $682,000 this year alone and has identified potential violations in 540 cases.