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Alaska Airlines asks federal judge to dismiss mask lawsuit brought by former senator


Alaska Airlines asks federal judge to dismiss mask lawsuit brought by former senator

May 31, 2023 | 8:10 pm ET
By James Brooks
Alaska Airlines asks federal judge to dismiss mask lawsuit brought by former senator
Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, speaks Tuesday, May 10, 2022, on the floor of the Alaska Senate at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Alaska’s leading airline has responded to a lawsuit from a former state senator, saying the legal claim “contains multiple deficiencies,” and asked a federal judge in Anchorage to dismiss it.

Former state Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, sued Alaska Airlines in April, saying the airline violated her constitutional rights when it banned her from its planes after she confronted airline officials in Juneau over the company’s policy on facemasks intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Reinbold also claims the airline caused her stress and humiliation, and asked a federal judge to award damages.

In a formal response filed Tuesday with Alaska District Court Judge Joshua Kindred, attorneys representing the airline said Reinbold’s antipathy toward mask rules is evident, as is her hostility toward federal rules pertaining to travel during the pandemic, but the language of her complaint “leaves nearly everything else about her lawsuit to conjecture and surmise.”

Reinbold is representing herself in the suit, and she lists eight airline officials, as well as the company itself, in her complaint. 

But the document doesn’t list which alleged violations of federal law apply to which person, meaning Reinbold hasn’t made a legally actionable complaint, the airline’s attorneys said.

“Plaintiff has failed to state any legally actionable claims against any of the defendants,” they wrote.

Furthermore, they said, the company’s actions were justified by federal orders in place at the time. Those rules required masking.

Alaska Airlines banned the then-senator from its planes in April 2021 after multiple arguments with company employees and complaints from passengers who said they were made uncomfortable when Reinbold removed her mask in flight.

“Plaintiff was entitled to her personal views about COVID-19,” the airline’s attorneys wrote. “She was not, however, empowered to invoke her personal notions to evade or disregard federally mandated requirements for air travel that applied to all other Alaska Airlines guests during a worldwide pandemic.”

Alaska Airlines was the only airline operating regularly scheduled passenger service between Juneau and Anchorage in April 2021, and Reinbold’s complaint states that she had a “constitutional and statutory right to have access to flights of Alaska Airlines to fly to and from Juneau.”

The company’s attorneys disagreed, saying that there is no fundamental right to travel by airplane, even when it is the most convenient mode of travel. 

“As for intrastate travel, it is unclear whether any such right is Constitutionally safeguarded at all,” the company’s attorneys stated. “As the Ninth Circuit recently explained, the Supreme Court has cast doubt on the right to intrastate travel.”

Reinbold did not return a phone call seeking comment on Wednesday. Robert Richmond, an attorney representing Alaska Airlines, declined comment.