It’s looking increasingly likely that the federal face mask for public transit including airports and airplanes is to be extended for a second time when it is due to expire on September 13. One of the Biden administration’s first acts, the mandate was originally introduced on February 1 and requires all transit employees and passengers aged two and over to wear an approved face mask over their mouth and nose.
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently eased face mask guidance for most indoor settings, the agency declined to review the mandate and has so far successfully fought back various legal actions and protests from some Republican lawmakers.
Many airline executives have refused to publicly advocate for the end of the mandate but Gary Kelly, chief executive of Southwest Airlines recently confirmed that he wouldn’t support an extension of the face mask mandate.
That stance was, however, based on now-outdated CDC guidance.
With the Delta variant now pushing infection rates ever higher, the CDC changed its face mask guidance on Tuesday and advises the wearing of face masks – even for fully vaccinated Americans – in areas of high transmission.
“This pandemic continues to pose a serious threat to the health of all Americans,” commented CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky on Tuesday. “Information on the Delta variant from several states and other countries indicates that on rare occasions some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others,” she continued.
“In areas with substantial and high transmission, the CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the Delta variant and help protect others.”
Despite this clear guidance, the CDC refuses to be drawn on whether the mandate might be extended.
For airlines, the mandate has been a double-edged sword. While they initially lobbied for its introduction to back up their own face mask rules, the mandate has been partially responsible for an explosion in unruly passenger incidents.
The FAA has reported a 500 per cent increase in disruptive passengers – more than 2,666 incidents relate to face mask non-compliance issues.
With unruly passengers assaulting and abusing staff, causing flight delays and diversions you could understand why airlines might want to quietly drop face mask rules. Publicly, however, industry lobby group Airlines 4 America says carriers will continue supporting the current health measures.
“As we have done for months, U.S. airlines will comply with the federal mask mandate and will continue strictly enforcing this requirement in collaboration with the TSA and FAA,” a spokesperson for A4A said in an emailed response to questions about the mandate.
“We remain in routine communication with the Administration and appropriate agencies as they regularly reassess the science and research,” the statement continued.
From Los Angeles and Las Vegas to Miami and New Orleans, face mask mandates are already being reintroduced on the ground so masking is going to be something Americans have to get used to once again.
Still, a lot could happen between now and September 13. Judging by the Biden administration’s cautious approach to travel restrictions though, expect yet another extension.
Photo Credit: Ringo Chiu / Shutterstock.com
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.