The battle over face masks on planes

Florida Woman has struck again, this time placing herself in the middle of the new mandatory face mask policy in place on nearly all commercial air flights. But in this case, it wasn’t a question of making the passenger wear a mask. She had one. The problem was that the face mask had a message on it that a flight attendant found offensive. This led to the plane returning to the gate and the passenger being escorted off. So what was the offensive message? The mask was reportedly emblazoned with the phrase “F— 12.” (Fox News)

A woman was reportedly kicked off an American Airlines flight last week because her mask was deemed “offensive” by a flight attendant.

Arlinda Johns, from South Florida, was on her way to Illinois when she boarded a plane wearing a mask that said “F— 12” and a T-shirt that said “Black Lives Matter,” she told Florida’s Local 10 station.

According to the station, “f— 12” is slang for “f— the police.”

The woman, Arlinda Johns, is described as an “activist” who believes in defunding or abolishing the police. The flight attendant asked her to cover her mask with something else, which she apparently did. At that point, their stories diverge. Johns claims she followed instructions, but the attendant says she kept switching back to the offensive mask. After a confrontation over the dispute, the plane returned to the gate.

While this does seem to stomp on the idea of free speech a bit, I suppose there’s room to allow the airlines the right to forbid the wearing of masks or other garments with offensive messages on them. This brought me back to the curious symbology of the “F— 12” message. This is the second time I’ve run into the symbol in news stories in the past couple of weeks, though I’d not seen it before. It supposedly means “F*** the Police” according to some sources I initially found online, though it turns out to be a bit more complicated. But either way, you’d only be offended by it if you knew the meaning of the underlying code.

Not being familiar with the terminology, I crossed my fingers, took a deep breath, and did a search online for any F— 12 face masks. Not only didn’t I find any for sale, but I also couldn’t even find a picture of one. The closest I came was this “F12 mask” from a site called “Think Pink Bows.” But the F12 identifier turned out to be the name of the cheerful floral pattern used.

My search for the origins of the terminology led to inconsistent answers. The Urban Dictionary offers a short definition (crude language warning) declaring that Eff 12 is more specific than the generic gang language of “Eff the police” in that it specifically means “Eff the police drug unit.” A separate entry (repeat language waring) indicates that the number 12 refers specifically to the DEA. But an alternate source claims that the phrase actually originated with the common police radio code “10-12,” which means that visitors are present in the area where police are going. That one doesn’t make much sense if you ask me.

The bottom line is that the “F—” indicates the normal F word. But if you’re not writing out the entire word, does it count as vulgarity whether it’s being hurled at law enforcement or anyone else? If I boarded a plane with a hat reading “F— socialism” would I be asked to remove it or get off of the flight? Would “Eff socialism” (or “Eff capitalism if you’re with Antifa) be allowed? ‘

I’m just not sure. But this symbol does seem to be part and parcel of the BLM movement these days, so making an issue of it on a crowded flight is definitely going to turn into a media and PR debacle as soon as the video goes viral, as it did in this case. If the airlines want to lower the temperature of these disputes and prevent incidents like this in the future, they need to have a clearly spelled-out policy available for travelers with a specific list of words, phrases or images that can’t be displayed on masks or anything else. And then they need to enforce the policy uniformly and not let their cabin attendants freelance the rules.

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