Officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations screen international passengers arriving at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., March 13, 2020. In response to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) CBP officers have begun wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) as they interact with passengers arriving from foreign countries. Many passengers have also donned PPE to safeguard themselves and others on their travels. CBP Photo by Glenn Fawcett
© U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Authorities in the US are weighing up their options over a mask mandate for air travellers, as the Transportation Security Administration’s current guidance is set to expire on Friday 18th March.

Many similar mandates across other industries in the US have been relaxed in recent days following updated guidance from the nation’s health protection agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flight attendants call for extension

The Association of Flight Attendants, the largest union representing air stewards in the US, has called for an extension to the current requirements, in direct contrast to the CDC’s latest recommendations. The union, representing over 50,000 staff members, said there had been no change in the working environment for its members.

“The conditions in aviation are the same – our youngest passengers do not yet have access to the vaccine. The airplane is a unique, but controlled environment for everyone’s safety. The layered approach to safety and security includes masks. Aviation is a world-wide network that harmonises safety procedures around the world. It’s also critical that we maintain passenger confidence in the safety of air travel.”

Existing mask requirements were put in place in January 2021 in response to an executive order issued by US President Joe Biden. Airlines have previously established their own guidance from May 2020 in accordance with CDC advice.

Are conditions right for dropping masks?

Proponents of ending the mask mandate contend that with Covid-19 vaccines widely available and case numbers fallings in the country, it is appropriate that it is no longer enforced.

Ryanair B737
British carrier Ryanair has announced plans to end its requirement for masks onboard | © Marco Macca/Travel Radar

Onlookers await a decision on the future of masks in the realm of air travel in just under two weeks. The current mandate has previously been extended three times, often in accordance with the wishes of airline industry officials plus unions representing airline staff.

With airlines in other parts of the world relaxing their mask requirements in recent days, whether TSA officials side with airline staff or the CDC is yet to be seen.

Do you agree with ending the current mask mandate for air travellers? Let us know in the comments below.


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