The recent surge of non-mask-wearing misfits on-board has caused delays to flights and put passengers' lives at risk.
And the South African airline industry isn't taking the matter lightly. Defiant passengers who refuse to wear a mask are handed to authorities and could potentially face jail time.
In extreme cases that require a flight to divert to a nearby airport, the rebellious passengers may incur a hefty bill from the airline for the inconvenience.
Earlier this week, a man on a FlySafair flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg got thrown out of the plane minutes before take-off because he refused to wear his mask. The man wasn't charged, but other travellers may not be as lucky.
Kirby Gordon, the chief marketing officer at FlySafair, said the airline is legally required to enforce compliance or stand the risk of being fined heavily.
"As an airline, we are regulated by the South African Civil Aviation Authority to ensure compliance or face the risk of being grounded. As such, we will enforce mask-wearing just as we do any other regulation until it changes.
"Our approach is simple. We politely ask non-compliant customers to wear their masks. If they refuse, we discretely hand them a card that details all the rules they need to follow. If they continue to refuse, the passenger is handed a Captain's Letter. The letter reveals that they will be handed to the South African police if they don't comply. Beyond that point, we have relatively very little information," he said.
The captain can divert the plane to the nearest airport to drop off the passenger. The passenger is liable for all the expenses incurred in that process.
The passenger will also feature on the airline's "no-fly" list and "won't be welcome on any FlySafair flights in the future."
The process is similar on the new airline Lift.
Jonathan Ayache, the co-founder of Lift, said all passengers, staff and cabin crew need to wear masks while in public and during the flight.
"If anyone does not comply with these requirements, we will alert the relevant authorities and take further action.
“Passengers that continue to refuse are handed a Captains Warning letter. If the passenger still refuses to comply, he/she is moved to the isolation row in the rear of the cabin. The captain radios ahead to request the law enforcement authorities to meet the aircraft on landing. The rule of law is then applied," said Ayache.
Airlink denies boarding to any non-compliant passengers and reports any onboard incidents to the police who takes necessary steps.
In an email to IOL Travel, the airline revealed that unruly passengers who disobey an instruction from the crew, intimidate, assault their fellow passengers or who interfere with the aircraft crew in the performance of their duties are liable to criminal prosecution.
The airline is guided by the Civil Aviation Act Section 133 Offences & Penalties and Section 135 Nuisance, disorderly or indecent act on board any aircraft. Those found guilty can be charged or imprisoned.
Brian Kitchin, Executive Head Sales and Marketing for Comair, said in the event of a passenger not complying with wearing a mask onboard our kulula.com or British Airways (operated by Comair) flights, the company is governed by law to allow the passenger the opportunity to correct their behaviour.
"A verbal warning will be given to a passenger who isn't complying. We will let them know that it is a criminal offence as per the South African Government Gazette of 2021 to not wear a mask when in public.
“The passenger can then comply, and no further action will be taken. If the passenger continues to not obey the law, we have to follow the Civil Aviation Act 13 of 2009’s warning card system that will provide additional measures for more control of the safety and security of the aircraft.
“Depending on the severity, this could include offloading the passenger or informing the South African Police Service," said Kitchin.