At the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, the Transportation Security Administration recently decided to extend the requirements for masks on public transportation — including airplanes — until April 18. The federal transportation mask mandate went into effect on Feb. 1, 2021 and has been extended several times in the past year.
The federal mandate requires travelers to wear masks on buses, subways, trains, ferries and other forms of public transit. Supporters of the mask requirement have expressed continued concern for the safety of immunocompromised passengers, people with underlying health conditions, and those who aren’t eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, such as children age 5 and younger.
The current mandate requires all passengers to wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth, with the exception of when they’re eating or drinking. Public transportation increases a person’s risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 since people are in close contact with one another.
In response to the TSA’s decision, the US Senate voted 57-40 on Monday to overturn the mask requirement for public transportation. President Joe Biden has promised to veto the legislation if it is passed by the House of Representatives.
We’ll explain what’s happening with the new April 18 deadline for ending the mask mandate. For more information, here’s the latest on. We’ll update this story as new information develops.
Could the mask mandate be extended yet again?
The mandate has been extended three times now and could be yet again, depending on any new variants that could develop.
The mask requirements will remain in place and will continue to be evaluated “based on the state of the virus,” White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said during a press briefing.
Rochelle Walensky, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they’d revisit the masking mandate, and on March 10 recommended keeping it in place for another month.
Do flight attendants want to keep the mandate?
Flight attendants as a group haven’t taken a stance on whether or not to keep the mask mandate in place, the Association of Flight Attendants said. They are, however, in charge of enforcing the mandate, which also means dealing with passengers refusing to comply.
As of March 7, the Federal Aviation Administration reported 535 out of 814 unruly passengers have been related to face masks this year. Given those numbers, an expired mandate could significantly decrease the number of violent altercations in flight.
The government is considering a unified no-fly list for flyers refusing to comply with the mask requirements, Bloomberg reported, but no official decision has been made.
Can individual airlines continue requiring masks onboard after the mandate ends?
The airlines haven’t announced any plans for after the mask mandate is lifted, and it’s unclear whether individual airlines can continue requiring masks for flyers. Generally, airlines follow protocols put in place by the TSA, so if the mandate isn’t extended, the airlines are likely to return to the “no mask necessary” policy.
“We remain in communication with the Administration as they reassess the existing mask requirements and work to identify a path forward from COVID-era policies,” an AFA representative told CNET. “We are encouraged by the lifting of mask requirements in all 50 states and other COVID-related restrictions across the country.”
A Southwest Airlines representative told CNET the company doesn’t have anything to offer on this topic at this time. “Like the rest of our industry, Southwest is subject to federal mask mandates as implemented via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s original order.”
Does this apply to international travel from the US?
At this time, it’s unclear whether the mandate ending next month will apply to those traveling from the US to another country with mask requirements. It’s possible other countries that still have mask mandates could require flyers to mask up before exiting the plane and entering the airport.
How you can stay protected if the mandate is lifted
If you’re concerned about COVID-19 while traveling, there are a few measures you can take to help keep yourself protected.
- Wear a face mask while in flight.
- Choose a window seat, if possible — this exposes you to fewer people than an aisle seat.
- Stay up to date on your vaccines.
- Wipe down your seat and tray with a disinfectant cloth.
- Wash or sanitize your hands before eating.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
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