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Despite Violent Attacks, Flight Attendants Want the Face Mask Mandate to Stay

Despite Violent Attacks, Flight Attendants Want the Face Mask Mandate to Stay

A group of Republican senators including Ted Cruz and Roger Wicker are pressing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to immediately lift mask requirements on public transport, including onboard commercial flights. Flight attendants say they want them to stay despite an increasingly angry and violent backlash to face mask rules.

Sara Nelson, the firebrand leader of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) has urged Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr Rochelle Walensky to keep the federal face mask mandate in place until at least September 13 – perhaps even longer if vaccination rates don’t rise or infections do.

“We certainly look forward to the day that masks are no longer required, but we are not there yet for transportation. We support the federal mask mandate in transportation, and, for these key reasons, it is crucial that your mask Order remain in place at this time,” Nelson wrote in a letter to Dr Walensky and TSA administrator David Pekoske.

While the CDC says fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear a mask in most public settings, the same exemption hasn’t been afforded for passengers on public transit.

Nelson admits the mask mandate has caused a surge in unruly passenger incidents – including ugly scenes in which flight attendants have been seriously physically assaulted – but she argues this isn’t the time to ease mask rules.

“Most passengers are compliant, but a vocal minority willfully choose to remove their masks inflight,” Nelson wrote. “This year, the rate of documented disruptive passenger incidents is at an all-time high and just last week TSA announced that, starting in July 2021, it will resume its voluntary classes in self-defense training for Flight Attendants and pilots”.

Of 3,100 unruly passenger reports received by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) so far this year, around 75 per cent were because of face mask compliance.

“Union safety representatives consistently report that most disruptive passenger incidents currently involve non-compliance with mask policies, and often a contributor to the incidents is alcohol consumption.”

Which is why Nelson also supports a ban on alcohol while the mask mandate remains in force.

Of particular concern to Nelson is the Delta variant which has caused a massive spike in infections in the United Kingdom despite high vaccination levels. She is also concerned that it’s impossible for flight attendants to differentiate between a passenger who is fully jabbed and one who only claims to be vaccinated in order to avoid wearing a mask.

“If half of the passengers on a given flight make that claim that they are vaccinated, then the remaining half may either choose not to fly at all due to safety concerns or may become agitated that masks are not being worn in this densely populated space,” Nelson says.

But some Republican senators say it remains “inexplicable” that the federal face mask hasn’t been lifted yet and have urged the CDC to “follow the science”. They are calling on the mandate to be lifted early – prompting Nelson’s intervention.

“Considering the conditions described in this letter and the status of the pandemic, there should be no question about the need to keep the federal mask mandate in place at least through September 13th,” Nelson continued in her letter, saying flight attendants support “all efforts” to control the pandemic.

Photo Credit: Southwest Airlines

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