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Man says he was kicked off Southwest flight for failing to put his mask on — between bites of food
Image source: WBZ-TV video screenshot, composite

Man says he was kicked off Southwest flight for failing to put his mask on — between bites of food

One minute Avi Mandel was minding his own business on a Southwest Airlines plane before takeoff this weekend and eating a box of Twizzlers — and the next minute, he was kicked off the Florida-bound flight.

What are the details?

Mandel told WBZ-TV that he had been a frequent Southwest customer — that is until his Sunday flight from Thurgood Marshall Baltimore Washington International Airport to Fort Lauderdale.

While waiting for the flight to take off, Mandel told the station he got hungry and opened a pack of Twizzlers — and naturally when one eats, a mask makes that kind of awkward. So he removed his mask.

Then a flight attendant told Mandel he had to put his mask on, WBZ said, and he recalled that she "kind of, like, ran away. And I'm like, 'Oh, I guess she didn't know I was eating.' Then I hear on the loudspeaker, 'Everyone who's eating has to wear mask in between bites.'"

Suddenly, the plane returned to the gate, and a security team entered the plane to escort Mandel off, he told the station.

Image source: WBZ-TV video screenshot

There was no drama. Mandel told WBZ he remained calm and respectful despite feeling embarrassed — but other passengers stuck up for him.

He showed the station video of passenger Stephanie Misiaszek telling the security team, "That is so wrong. He did nothing wrong. Wow."

The team was also told, "He was eating. Oh my God."

After departing the plane, Mandel appeared on a video clip saying, "I, Avi Mandel, just got kicked off a plane because I wasn't wearing my mask in between my bites while I was eating."

Image source: WBZ-TV video screenshot

Mandel told WBZ he was rebooked on the next flight to Florida Monday morning but won't fly Southwest again any time soon.

"It was absurd," he told the station. "The way I was treated was absolutely absurd. It was crazy, and it wasn't fair."

Mandel added to WBZ that "there was no warning of it, there was no explanation, there was nothing. It was just a matter of, like, 'I don't like you; get off the plane.'"

Word from on high

After he emailed Southwest, the station said he learned that a new federal mask mandate went into effect in February requiring passengers to wear face masks at all times — including "in between bites."

"If I knew this rule ahead of time, I would have happily listened, but I had no clue," Mandel told WBZ.

Image source: WBZ-TV video screenshot

The Transportation Security Administration told the station that airline passengers can remove masks while eating, drinking, or taking medications — but they must put them on between bites and sips and cannot leave them off for "prolonged periods."

Mandel maintained to WBZ that the rule that got him kicked off the flight wasn't addressed beforehand.

"I think it could be handled a lot better, and I think the rule could have been placed better," he told the station. "I always do follow the rules. I'm on their plane, I get it. But this was not a rule I knew of, and it wasn't explained to me. I didn't see it anywhere at that point, so to me, it wasn't a rule that I was breaking. Had I known, I obviously would have done it differently, but you got to tell someone the rule in order for them to follow it."

A Southwest spokesperson told WBZ in a statement that while the airline regrets "any inconvenience caused, the face covering policy is communicated throughout the booking and check-in process, and it's the responsibility of their crew to enforce federal regulations."

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