The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced the extension of its zero-tolerance policy for passengers who refuse to wear face masks during flights.

Initially implemented in January, the policy could see disruptive passengers being penalised with up to $35,000 in fines and possible jail time.

The policy, which was set to expire on 30 March, will now last as long as a federal government requires the use of face masks on flights.

Since late December, airlines have reported more than 500 cases of unruly passengers. Most of these cases involved travellers refusing to wear masks.

In addition to initiating 20 enforcement cases, the FAA is reviewing more than 450 cases.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said: “I have decided to extend the FAA’s unruly-passenger zero-tolerance policy as we continue to do everything we can to confront the pandemic.

“The policy directs our safety inspectors and attorneys to take strong enforcement action against any passenger who disrupts or threatens the safety of a flight, with penalties ranging from fines to jail time. The number of cases we’re seeing is still far too high, and it tells us urgent action continues to be required.”

The announcement came after the US House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Peter DeFazio urged the FAA to extend the policy ‘until public health officials determine that mass vaccinations have eliminated the risk of infection’.

In January, airlines reportedly banned more than 2,000 travellers for declining to comply with the mandatory mask policy.

Last month, US carrier Delta Air Lines revealed that it had banned 950 passengers since it adopted the policy last year.