At 2 pm ET, President Joe Biden will sign a slew of executive orders as his administration sets to work on tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, a top priority of the new President who hopes to have turned the current dire situation around within his first 100 days in office. Airlines will no doubt be bracing themselves for what Biden has in the works with restrictions likely to be imposed on both international and even domestic travel.
So far, what is known is that the Biden administration will mandate the wearing of face masks in airports and on interstate flights. That’s no surprise given Biden has long backed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in their call to get more American’s wearing masks as part of their everyday routine.
Within hours of being sworn into office on Wednesday, Biden had already made mask wearing mandatory on federal property and it’s almost a certainty that the same measures will be applied to the aviation industry.
In reality, a federal mask mandate on planes and in airports won’t make much difference considering that most airlines and airports introduced their own rules last May. Airlines will, at the very least, get some bite to back up their bark but the federal government already has the authority to clamp down on anti-maskers if it chooses to.
Only last week, while consistently saying it didn’t have the authority to mandate the wearing of face masks, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it would fine passengers up to $35,000 for refusing to comply with lawful crew member instructions – including being told to wear a face mask.
Face mask rules, therefore, aren’t of that much interest to airlines right now. It’s the other measures that, so far, the administration has only hinted about that airline executives will be studying in great detail as soon as they’re released.
What we’re likely to see are executive orders that, at the very least, attempt to dissuade people from traveling for at least the next few months. It’s unlikely to be an all-out ban on travel but travelers will have so many hoops to jump through that they might just think twice about leaving home for a quick weekend away in Mexico or even Florida.
There’s already a requirement to get a pre-departure test on international flights headed to the United States starting January 26 and this could be extended to intra-state domestic flights. The Biden team is also said to be considering following the lead of many other countries by mandating a two-week quarantine on arrival and backed up with the threat of huge fines.
Then there’s the COVID travel ban imposed on much of Europe, the UK and Brazil which is set to end on January 26. Lifting the travel ban was one of Donald Trump’s last actions as President but the Biden administration is poised to rescind the order and then extend the travel ban to a whole host of new countries.
It sounds like grim news for airlines but U.S. carriers might be willing to stomach the restrictions so long as they’re time-limited and backed up with the promise of yet another multi-billion dollar federal bailout.
The executive orders aren’t going to be pretty for travelers who haven’t yet got the message to stay home. They soon will though.
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 used by some of the biggest names in journalism.