An Irishman who refused to wear a mask during a flight from Dublin to New York and threw a can at another passenger faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of assault, the US Justice Department said.

Shane McInerney, 29, from Galway, is alleged to have behaved this way on a Delta Airlines flight on 7 January.

He appeared before a judge in New York a week later and was charged with "intentionally assaulting and intimidating a member of a flight crew," according to a criminal complaint unsealed yesterday.

It said the suspect repeatedly refused to wear a mask, threw a beverage can and hit a passenger in the head, and "pulled down his pants."

A court spokesman said that if convicted, Mr McInerney could be sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Mr McInerney was headed to Florida to take up a job at a football academy.

He was released on $20,000 (€17,630) bail as he awaits trial.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in January 2021 it would observe a zero tolerance policy toward people who reject federal rules mandating mask-wearing on US domestic flights.

This came as flight attendants reported a high number of incidents of verbal and physical abuse from travellers who refuse to wear a mask.

An American Airlines plane headed from Miami to London turned around in mid-flight Thursday because a passenger refused to wear a mask.