Eagle River Republican state Sen. Lora Reinbold has been banned from flying on Alaska Airlines after refusing to follow mask-wearing rules.
That’s after an incident last week at the Juneau airport, in a video posted by the website Alaska Landmine, in which Reinbold appeared to be arguing with airline staff about her mask or how she was wearing it.
Reinbold, who’s run afoul of airline and Capitol masking rules in the past, was allowed to fly to Anchorage on that flight. But on Saturday, the Anchorage Daily News reported officials with Alaska Airlines said Reinbold was no longer allowed to fly with them after what they described as her “continued refusal” to adhere to the airlines’ mask policy.
To return to the legislative session Monday in Juneau— which is not connected to the rest of the state road system — Reinbold had to drive through part of Canada and take a ferry.
Anchorage Daily News reporter James Brooks wrote about it all and joined Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove to talk about it.
JAMES BROOKS: During weekend trips back to home districts to talk to constituents, the usual way to go is to fly. It’s quicker and easier. But when Alaska Airlines told her that she would not be allowed to fly, she and her husband got in their car and started driving. It’s about a 14-hour drive from Eagle River to Haines, where she boarded a ferry that took another four or five hours to reach Juneau.
CASEY GROVE: And she was back in Juneau for session today. Was that surprising at all to see her there? Have you been following her journey?
JB: I’d been following her journey on social media and talking to her fellow lawmakers. And I also know that this week in the State Senate is going to be a vote on COVID-19 emergency rules. And Senator Reinbold has been an extremely vocal opponent of emergency rules to deal with COVID-19. And so I know she would bend heaven and earth to get into the Capitol to be able to vote on that, which is expected on Wednesday.
Reinbold has been pretty defiant of mask rules and coronavirus-related protocols in the past.
CG: Remind us of her issues with this in this recent history.
JB: She has consistently, at least since March 2020, been a critic of anti-coronavirus methods on grounds of social liberty, social justice, whatever you want to call it — the idea that people should not be bound by rules and restrictions and should be able to decide for themselves what they deem is appropriate.
That’s created clashes both with Alaska Airlines and with her colleagues in the Alaska Legislature, where she has been repeatedly reprimanded and even fined for not wearing a mask, or not wearing a mask properly, or just generally causing disturbances. In the words of her colleagues, they have said it’s been a distraction and prevented them from getting work done.
That culminated shortly before this latest incident, when they voted 17-1 to remove her as chair of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, which considers legislation dealing on a whole variety of subjects.
CG: And you’ve talked to Sen. Reinbold herself, too. What does she have to say about this ban by Alaska Airlines?
JB I talked to her today after the Senate floor session. And she talked at length about the idea of due process. That’s of course a legal principle that applies to government action: The idea that if you’re accused of a crime or an issue relating to the government, that there is a process to be followed, and you, as a citizen, have a right to due process. But that doesn’t apply to companies and corporate actions. And she was suggesting that, well, maybe there should be a look at that.
CG: It seems like taking this position has created some difficulties for her. Why is she taking this approach?
JB: That’s a really good question, Casey. I think there’s two possible answers, depending on who you talk to. If you talk to her, she is very clearly a passionate defender of what she believes are individual rights. Actions like these, she believes, are fighting for those rights. I’ve talked to other people, though, who have suggested that she intends to run for governor next year, and that this is a way to garner attention ahead of a potential run.
Now, I have asked her specifically whether she intends to run for governor and she has said that that is not a factor in what’s going on now — that she is focused on her work in the Senate and doing what she feels is best and right for her constituents.
CG: It’s been reported in the past that that maybe a previous issue with Alaska Airlines ended with her sending an apology cake. And I wonder, is it going to take a really big cake this time? How is this going to end? I mean, is there any process by which Alaska Airlines has said that it will end her ban?
JB: It’s unclear to me. It’s kind of opaque right now. Alaska Airlines has said that they’re taking the matter under review and taking a look at it. So it’s unclear to me whether this ban will be a long one, whether it’ll be permanent, or whether it will be over fairly quickly. They did tell me that they have banned more than 500 people under similar circumstances, so Reinbold is not alone in this.