BALTIMORE (WJZ)-- A Baltimore County man said he was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for not wearing a mask while eating Twizzlers and wants to share his story in the hopes things will change.
Avi Mandel said he was a frequent Southwest flyer until his flight Sunday out of Thurgood Marshall Baltimore Washington International Airport.
He showed WJZ a selfie video he made during the flight, in which he said, "I, Avi Mandel, just got kicked off a plane because I wasn't wearing my mask in between bites while I was eating."
"That's so sad. That's so wrong," Mandel told WJZ. "It was absurd. The way I was treated was absolutely absurd. It was crazy and it wasn't fair."
He was waiting on the plane for it to take off for Fort Lauderdale when he got hungry and opened a pack of Twizzlers, a frequent snack.
A flight attendant told Mandel he had to put his mask on "and 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 masks in between bites.'"
Mandel said he didn't think much of it at the time. But the plane returned to the gate, and a security team came to escort him off the plane, he said. He said he remained calm and respectful and other passengers stuck up for him.
Mandel showed video of passenger Stephanie Misiaszek, who said, "That is so wrong. He did nothing wrong, wow."
Mandel said he knew he had no choice but to leave the plane and described it as embarrassing.
After he emailed Southwest, he found out a new federal mask mandate went into effect requiring airline 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 said.
The Transportation Security Administration says airline passengers can remove masks while eating, drinking or taking medications but must put them on between bites and sips and cannot leave them off for "prolonged periods."
This is something Mandel said he wished would have been addressed during the conversations on the plane.
"I think it could be handled a lot better, and I think the rule could have been placed better," he said. "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 said 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."
Mandel said he was able to get rebooked on the next flight to Florida Monday morning, but he won't fly Southwest again any time soon. But as for his choice of candy?
"Yeah, I'm still into Twizzlers. I'm still down."
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