Airlines, Once in Favor of a Mask Mandate, Are Over It

Travelers at Toronto Pearson Airport

By Anna Breuer on 22 July 2021
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Face masks are required on all public transit regardless of an individual’s vaccination status, but that could soon change.  With support of U.S. airlines and cabin crew, President Joseph Biden issued a mask mandate shortly after taking office that requires passengers on planes, trains, buses, and streetcars to don the face covering.

The masks limit the wearer’s exposure to respiratory droplets and large particles of the virus and may help prevent people who have Covid-19 from spreading the virus.  They continue to play a role in stemming the spread of the coronavirus, especially with highly transmissible mutations such as the India, or Delta, variant.

The mask mandate was intended to run out in May, but was extended through September 13, again with airline and employee workgroup support.

But airlines may not want another extension.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, who serves as the chairman of Airlines for America, an industry trade group representing major U.S. carriers, said Thursday that his airline, as well as A4A, doesn’t plan to ask the president for another extension.

Kelly, in the course of answering questions during the airline’s earnings call on Thursday, said that airlines support the current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  That guidance says that vaccinated individuals don’t need to wear a face mask indoors or out but non-vaccinated persons should.

The CDC guidance was issued with the understanding that travelers would still have to wear masks on various means of carriage, however, and it could still call for masks on airplanes even as the mandate is allowed to expire.

Kelly said he doesn’t know if the mandate will stay or go: “That’s a political question, to a degree,” he said.

He also said that the government is currently studying the matter, given the surge in cases due to the India variant, adding that he is not aware of “any efforts underway” to specifically extend the mandate at the moment.

Airlines, including Southwest, would likely prefer not to have to be in a situation that requires flight attendants to double as mask police.  Hundreds of altercations and arguments on board flights over the issue have been reported and numerous passengers have been arrested and fined for non-compliance.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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