As in-flight and airport mask mandates set to be lifted in the US next month, a flight attendant union is pushing the Biden administration to expand the requirement until more people are vaccinated .
In a statement, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said the Transportation Security Administration’s plan to lift mask requirements on March 18 would put medically vulnerable travelers and passengers under age 5 at risk. who have not been cleared by federal health authorities to be vaccinated.
“The layered approach to safety and security includes masks,” the union said in a statement on Tuesday.
If the mask mandate is canceled next month as expected, it would come weeks after local and state authorities lifted mask mandates across the country as new coronavirus cases plummeted. However, the federal government regulates air travel, so requirements for masks on planes have remained in place.
Biden administration imposed mask rule on flights a year ago during a sharp rise in cases across the country before vaccines became widely available. Those who did not comply were subject to fines. Officials extended the term twice as deadly waves of the virus continue to sweep across the country.
On Tuesday night, TSA spokesperson Patricia Mancha said the mask warrant was set to expire on March 18, despite previous extensions. “If there is a change to stop or extend the mask requirement, we will make an announcement,” she said in an email. “As of now, nothing new to share.”
Many flight crews faced this impending deadline with anxiety.
Disagreements over masks and some passengers’ refusal to wear them have led to frequent shouting matches, fights and other issues with unruly passengers during the pandemic. From January 1 to February 15, the Federal Aviation Administration received nearly 400 reports of unruly passengers, including 255 reports of passengers refusing to comply with a federal mandate that they wear masks on planes.
Last month, a man on a Delta Air Lines flight from Dublin to New York who refused to wear his mask pulled down his pants and exposed his buttocks. Almost two weeks later, an American Airlines flight to London from Miami turned around an hour into its journey because of a passenger who refused to wear a mask.
Cases like these explain why airline executives and Association of Professional Flight Attendants urged federal authorities to create a federal no-fly list for unruly passengers.
Still, many flight attendants support keeping the mask requirement. “It is also essential that we maintain passenger confidence in the safety of air travel,” the union, which represents 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines, said in its statement.
Last week, the Republican Texas attorney general filed a lawsuit to overturn the mask mandate on public transportation, including on planes and at airports.
Some airline executives have questioned the effectiveness of masks on planes. At a Senate hearing in December, Gary Kelly, the chief executive of Southwest Airlines, said: ‘The case is very strong that masks add little, if anything, to the cabin environment. Aerial.”
Days later, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, urged travelers to wear face masks at airports and during flights.