Flight attendants at several major U.S. airlines expect the federal face mask mandate that covers public transportation including airplanes to be extended. The Biden administration’s controversial mask mandate is due to expire on March 18 but observers are eagerly awaiting news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on whether the rules could remain in force for even longer.
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) which represents more than 50,000 crew members at a number of major airlines including United argues that the mandate has increased public confidence amidst pandemic restrictions and infection fears.
The mandate has, however, also been blamed for an explosion in unruly passenger incidents over the last 12 months that has put the aviation industry in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Flight attendants have been assaulted and abused at frighteningly high levels although a high-profile federal campaign to crack down on disruptive passengers is starting to turn the tide. Mental illness, as well as drug and alcohol abuse, has also been cited as reasons behind the upswing in violent incidents at 38,000 feet.
“The conditions in aviation are the same,” commented AFA spokesperson Taylor Garland about the union’s decision to back a further extension of the mandate.
“The airplane is a unique but controlled environment for everyone’s safety,” Garland told the Dallas News. “The layered approach to safety and security includes masks.”
A spokesperson for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants which represents crew members at American Airlines agreed with those sentiments. Paul Hartshorn pointed out that masks continued to protect vulnerable people who had to travel.
“While more of the world now has access to life-saving vaccines, we still have a significant portion of the population that are vulnerable, including our youngest passengers,” Hartshorn explained.
Nonetheless, the pressure on President Biden and the CDC to drop masking rules continues to mount. An increasing number of states, counties and cities are dropping local masking requirements and in turn putting federal rules at odds with the everyday lives of most Americans.
The airline industry continues to advocate for onboard masking on the grounds that it increases public confidence, although that stance jars with the industry’s insistence that airplane cabins are far safer than other public indoor settings including supermarkets and restaurants.
There are also growing calls for the CDC to adopt the concept of ‘one-way masking’ in which vulnerable people wear a good quality N95 mask while those around them go bare-faced.
While vaccines and anti-viral pills have changed the course of the pandemic, Garland believes masks remain an important part of the multi-layered approach to safety – sometimes referred to as the Swiss cheese model because even if the virus gets through one hole another protection will block it from infecting someone.
The current federal masking rules apply to all passengers aged two and over, although there are limited exemptions for disabled people. Passengers can also remove their masks to eat or drink.
The TSA has been charged with enforcing the mandate but at a practical level, flight attendants are on the front line of actually policing the rules.
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.
No, enough with the virtue signaling garbage! Cloth masks are ineffective in stemming the transmission of an airborne virus and it’s an unrealistic expectation to slap everyone into an N95 mask, as those need to be worn under strict protocols to be effective. They can also be dangerous to people with respiratory or heart conditions as they can fatigue the respiratory system (due to the extra effort required in pulling air through the restrictively small pores in the mask).
These FA’s remind me of the teachers unions and enough is enough with this tyrannical nonsense.
It’s not “virtue signalling” and it’s not “tyranical.”
Airlines’ planes are private property. You’re on their airplane, their property; you play by their rules. Those who don’t like the rules are free to not fly.