U.S. airlines are getting restless and putting pressure on the Biden administration to lift the federal mask mandate for air travel, concluding that it makes “no sense” as people are “allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks.”
This week, the Airlines for America’s (A4A) Board of Directors sent a letter to the Biden White House, asking the president to “sunset federal transportation travel restrictions.”
“During the global health crisis, U.S. airlines have supported and cooperated with the federal government’s measures to slow the spread of COVID-19,” the letter reads, citing data indicating it is “past time to eliminate COVID-era transportation policies.”
“Our industry has leaned into science at every turn,” the letter, signed by several airline leaders, continued, explaining how airlines “voluntarily implemented policies and procedures — mandating face coverings; requiring passenger health acknowledgements and contact tracing information; and enhancing cleaning protocols – to form a multi-layered approach to mitigate risk and prioritize the wellbeing of passengers and employees” throughout the pandemic.
While they have complied with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, they now say “much has changed since these measures were imposed and they no longer make sense in the current public health context.”
The letter continues:
The persistent and steady decline of hospitalization and death rates are the most compelling indicators that our country is well protected against severe disease from COVID-19. Given that we have entered a different phase of dealing with this virus, we strongly support your view that “COVID-19 need no longer control our lives.” Now is the time for the Administration to sunset federal transportation travel restrictions – including the international predeparture testing requirement and the federal mask mandate – that are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment.
The leaders devoted sections to the predeparture test requirement and mask mandates, specifically. On the former, they cited the World Health Organization (WHO), which “noted that ‘the failure of travel restrictions introduced after the detection and reporting of Omicron variant to limit international spread of Omicron demonstrates the ineffectiveness of such measures over time.'”
They also made it clear that the science “clearly supports lifting the mask mandate, as demonstrated by the recently released CDC framework indicating that 99 percent of the U.S. population no longer need to wear masks indoors.” Instead of requiring masks, the Biden administration should allow people to make their own choice, they argued:
Several studies completed before we had the added layer of widespread availability of vaccines, including one from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and another from the U.S. Department of Defense, have concluded that an airplane cabin is one of the safest indoor environments due to the combination of highly filtered air and constant air flow coupled with the downward direction of the air. Lifting the mask mandate in airports and onboard aircraft can be done safely as England has done. Importantly, the effectiveness and availability of high-quality masks for those who wish to wear them gives passengers the ability to further protect themselves if they choose to do so.
“It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do,” the letter reads, adding that the burden of enforcing the restrictions is taking a toll on employees.
“This is not a function they are trained to perform and subjects them to daily challenges by frustrated customers. This in turn takes a toll on their own well-being,” the letter continues, concluding that the absence of restrictions will not only benefit the public but “thousands of airline employees charged with enforcing a patchwork of now-outdated regulations implemented in response to COVID-19.”
Several airline leaders signed the letter, including American Airlines Chairman and CEO W. Douglas Parker, Alaska Air Group CEO Ben Minicucci, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian, Atlas Air Worldwide President and CEO John W. Dietrich, Hawaiian Airlines President and CEO Peter R. Ingram, FedEx Express EVP and CEO Scot Struminger, JetBlue Airways CEO Robin Hayes, Southwest Airlines Chairman Gary C. Kelly, UPS Airlines President Brendan Canavan, United Airlines Holdings CEO Scott Kirby, and Airlines for America President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio.
Biden, who originally pitched “just” 100 days of masking, has shown no signs of lifting the mandate early as his administration continues to greenlight extensions. Earlier this month, the TSA extended the mask mandate, which was was supposed to end March 18, for another month. It is now scheduled to end April 18 — that is, if federal officials do not extend it yet again, as they have done repeatedly up til now.