(AP) — A Texas
congressman who has been a vocal opponent of COVID-19
mask mandates went without a mask for at least part of a commercial airline flight Tuesday evening, an apparent violation of federal law
Republican Rep. Chip Roy
flew back to his home district of Austin
from Washington on Wednesday to attend a border
security event with former President Donald Trump
The Associated Press
was given a photo and a nearly three-minute video from a Southwest Airlines
flight showing a bare-faced Roy chatting with fellow passengers while standing in the plane's aisle by another passenger on the condition of anonymity.
Roy is a co-sponsor of a GOP-backed bill introduced in Congress last week that would prohibit federal authorities from requiring masks
to be worn on commercial aircraft or in airports, as well as other transportation hubs such as train and bus stations.
Multiple calls and emails seeking comment from his staff on Wednesday went unanswered, including questions about whether the congressman had been vaccinated.
In May, congressional leaders issued Roy a formal warning after he and a small group of other Republicans
refused to wear masks on the House
floor, as required by the chamber's rules at the time.
Roy stated in a tweet on May 18 that his refusal to wear a mask was a protest
“to stand up for every student and every hard-working American who wants the insanity to end.”
leaders later relaxed the mask mandate on Capitol Hill
after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
changed its guidance last month, stating that it is safe for vaccinated adults to go without a mask indoors in most cases.
Masks are still required by federal law on commercial aircraft and in all indoor airport spaces for anyone over the age of two, with civil fines
ranging from $250 for the first offense to $1,500 for repeat offenders.
Most US airlines prominently include mask-wearing as a requirement in their written terms of service when passengers purchase tickets, with verbal reminders issued during boarding and safety briefings; those who refuse may be denied service and removed.
In an email Wednesday, a Southwest spokesperson said the airline couldn't comment on specifics involving individual passengers, but no "irregularity reports" were generated from the flight on which the congressman was filmed.
The Transportation Security Administration
is in charge of enforcing COVID-19 safety restrictions on commercial aircraft. Agency spokesperson Sarah Rodriguez reiterated that airline passengers are still required to wear masks on planes and in airports, but she did not respond to specific questions about the congressman's failure to do so.
After being exposed to a fellow Republican congressman who later tested positive for COVID-19, Roy declined to self-quarantine and stated that he was not concerned about contracting the virus.
In a July 2020 interview
, Roy questioned the effectiveness of wearing masks to prevent the spread of the virus, particularly during "interactions with perfect strangers on an airplane
with circulating air."
“With cotton masks on an airplane, where everyone is pretending to do something noble to try to save people
from a virus on a cylinder with 50 people on it flying
through the air,” Roy said in the interview. “My question to you all is how are people wearing a cotton mask on an airplane saving you from circulating virus on an airplane?”