Southwest Airlines flight attendants’ union is the first labor body to ask federal aviation officials to end the face mask mandate “as soon as it is practicable.”
A Texas-based flight attendants’ labor union is asking the White House, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration to officially drop the federal face mask mandate for air travel, citing the reduced number of COVID-19 cases.
In a letter to President Joe Biden, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, outgoing FAA administrator Steve Dickson and TSA administrator David Pekosk, the Transportation Workers Union Local 556 executive board formally asked to end the face covering requirement.
Union Cites Reduced COVID-19 Cases, Return to Normalcy for Dropping Requirements
The national face mask mandate officially went into effect on February 2, 2021, after an executive order from President Biden. The rule required passengers and operators of publicly-accessible transportation – including aircraft, trains and buses – to wear face a face covering from the moment they enter the departure terminal, to when they leave their destination terminal. Despite at least one court challenge to the rule, it has been extended twice, now set to expire in April 2022.
With their letter, the TWU Local 556 is asking the regulators to change their direction on the rules. The group cites the dropping cases of COVID-19 across the U.S. as part of their reason for the request.
“The drastic decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases warrants reevaluating the mandate’s extension through April 18, 2022,” the letter reads. Based on data received from local and national health authorities, many state and local governments, including public schools, are already rescinding their mandates.”
The latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows downward trends for both new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations related to the viral infection. In addition, at least 81% of Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccination against the novel Coronavirus.
The union also notes the increase in violence flight attendants have faced since the mandate came into effect. Through March 14, 2022, airlines have referred 587 unruly passenger cases related to face masks to the FAA.
“The number of physical and verbal assaults in our workplace has increased dramatically, many of which are related to mask compliance,” the letter reads. “Through it all, our members have continued to respond professionally and responsibly with safety and security as our main priority. It is important to note that a large portion of our membership has expressed that they would like the freedom to choose whether to wear a mask at work.”
Finally, the union says ending the face mask mandate would be “In the spirit of bringing normalcy back to our frontlines” for those on the front line of the aviation industry. None of the agencies the letter was addressed to has publicly commented on the request.
Letter Latest Move to End Face Mask Mandate
The letter from the union is the latest move to bring the 13-month long federal mask mandate to an end, putting the matter of wearing coverings back in airlines’ hands. At the beginning of March 2022, former Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza penned an editorial for Forbes suggesting the face mask mandate should end, while British Airways announced later in March they would start relaxing regulations before reversing course the next day.