Industry leaders representing the nation’s airports and flight attendants have recently urged that the federal government mandate masks for passengers to be used before, during and after their flights.
Last week, officials working within the airline and travel industry testified at a hearing of the House Homeland Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security, asking for the government to order a temporary, consistent rule regarding face coverings for travelers.
Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration does not mandate face coverings for travelers in airports or on planes; instead, the FAA defers to local and state authorities for mask requirements in air travel facilities, and to the airlines themselves for mask requirements on flights.
Kevin M. Burke, the president and CEO of Airports Council International for North America, said at the Thursday hearing that he would “welcome” federal guidelines, as the current regulations make it harder for individual airports to work efficiently and in compliance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing.
“For all intents and purposes, we might have for a long period of time social separation of six feet,” Burke said in response to a question from U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., about safety at airport checkpoints. “The challenge airports have there, sir, is how do you do that in limited space without interfering with other lines at other gates?”
Part of the answer, he said, was a mask requirement.
“I can’t emphasize that enough, where we would welcome regulations on a temporary basis, that you should wear a mask in an airport, when you’re transferring through it. If in fact you have to wear it on an airplane, then you should be wearing it during your trip through the airport,” he said.
“You can infect as many people without a mask, going through an airport, as you would if you got on an airplane.”
Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, had also urged during the same hearing that federal authorities mandate masks for passengers while on the aircraft.
“Without clear instructions from government and airlines to passengers and crew, [or] proper training and federal enforcement, flight attendants are left to manage a hodgepodge of airline policies on the front lines,” Nelson said. “Most travelers comply with the mask requirement, but conflicts still flares up, as some have been led to believe masks are a political statement, rather than a public health necessity.”
Currently, neither the TSA nor the FAA requires airline passengers to wear masks within the airport prior to or after flights, although local and state lawmakers may mandate them for the specific airports under their jurisdictions. The FAA also does not currently require airline passengers to wear masks, but it is currently up to the airlines themselves to decide whether the masks are mandatory.
All major U.S. carriers currently mandate masks. Last week, Airlines for America — a trade union that represents American Airlines as well as Alaskan, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest and United — announced that airlines would begin more serious enforcement of the mask requirements they had already had in place for months, and dole out “consequences for noncompliance.”