The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Monday that it “strongly recommends” appropriate face masks be worn by all passengers and personnel on all forms of public transport including aeroplanes, as well as in busy transportation hubs like airports and train stations. The recommendation follows repeated failed attempts to get a federal mandate to require public transport passengers to wear a face mask or other approved covering.
Airlines and other “public transportation conveyance operators” have been advised by the CDC to refuse transport to anyone who isn’t wearing a mask. Limited exceptions highlighted by the CDC include removing the mask for brief periods to eat or drink, as well as for passengers under the age of two.
“Transmission of the virus through travelers has led to—and continues to lead to—interstate and international spread of the virus which causes COVID-19,” the CDC warned in the newly published guidance.
But the agency added that “appropriately worn masks reduce the spread of COVID-19—particularly given the evidence of pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission of the virus.”
U.S. airlines have mandated the wearing of face masks since May and have taken steps to reinforce those policies after high-profile incidents involving non-compliance. On Monday night, a Delta Air Lines flight attendant was allegedly assaulted by a passenger on a flight from Miami to Atlanta after an altercation about wearing a face mask.
In July, joint recommendations from Department of Transportation, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services “strongly encouraged” airlines and airports to require passengers to wear a mask in confined spaces where physical distancing isn’t possible.
The recommendations, however, fell short of mandating the wearing of face masks on public transport.
As recently as this month, the DOT rejected a petition from a transport labor union to mandate that passengers wear masks. The Trump administration has instead said that rules on the wearing of face masks should be left to local leaders at a state or county level.
In certain circumstances, the CDC concedes that passengers may have a legitimate exemption from wearing a face mask. In the case of a medical exemption, the agency recommends this be backed up with a written note from a licensed medical provider.
Pilots may also be exempted if it could interfere with their ability to safely operate the aircraft.
Delta Air Lines allows passengers to travel with a medical exemption once they have been evaluated by an in-house physician. Both American Airlines and Southwest have taken the decision to decline travel to anyone who is unable to wear a face mask with the exception of children under the age of two who shouldn’t wear a face mask.
Elsewhere, the German flag carrier Lufthansa requires passengers with a medical exemption to provide both a doctors note and a recent COVID-19 test certificate.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.