As frequent air travelers know, the Transportation SecurityAdministration has required people on airline flights and other publictransportation to wear face masks, a rule meant to help limit the spread of COVID-19. The rule was due to expire on September 13th, but the federal security agency announced the other day that it will now be extended until January 18, 2022.
TSA briefed airline industry leaders on its plans on August17th and will be holding additional briefings with airline unions on the 18th. All employees on commercial airlines and other forms of public transportation, such as Amtrak or mass transit bus systems, are also required to wear masks.
Mask Mandate Friction
It’s no secret that TSA’s mask mandate has led to occasional friction, especially between flight attendants who must enforce the rule and airline passengers who are either unaware of the rule or who don’t want to follow it. For security and flight safety purposes, airlines must document every instance of unruly passenger behavior. This year, a majority of those documented episodes have involved passengers and masks.
By law, airlines must enforce rules and mandates handed down to them by the federal government, including when it comes to mask wear by employees and air travelers. Airlines for America, the airline industry’s trade group, has said that air carriers will continue to strictly enforce the TSA mask rule. The US Travel Association, a broader interest group representing travel agencies and similar businesses related to airline travel, has also come out and said that the rule has its full support as well. The largest flightattendant union – the Association of Flight Attendants -- has been a strong advocate for mask wear, saying that TSA’s extension will help keep passengers and airline employees safe.
Mask Mandate Beginnings
The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) first issued guidelines for responding to the coronavirus pandemic back on January 29th, which TSA immediately began enforcing when it came to airline travel and public transportation. Prior to the formal guidelines, airlines had largely been enforcing their own rules for mask wear on an airline-by-airline basis. Having a formal government mask mandate also provides needed backup for airlines when it comes to dealing with passengers who may not wish to wear a mask while aboard a commercial airliner.
TSA’s decision to extend the mask mandate until January of 2022 may also help reassure travelers worried about the coronavirus. Travel industry representatives speculate that the rule could help make air travelers more confident about utilizing commercial air transportation through the fall and winter, including during the busy holiday season. Because everyone aboard an airliner will have to wear a mask, the theory is that the chances of contracting COVID-19 as a result of air travel will continue to remain low.
Welcome Airline Recovery
This summer’s airline travel season has been a welcome development for airlines, with bookings at high levels and TSA airportpassenger screenings continuing their strong recovery as they approach pre-pandemic levels. Once the upcoming Labor Day travel period – which traditionally marks the end of summer – ends, airlines expect bookings to decline as they normally do every year. Having the mask mandate in place will no doubt help serve as reassurance for many travelers who are still taking to the air to catch up on leisure travel they put off in 2020, as the coronavirus spread throughout the world.