Airlines For America Pleased With CDC Vaccine Policy Change

With the COVID-19 vaccination program underway across the United States, health authorities are starting to wind back the face mask guidelines for fully vaccinated passengers. Nearly 10% of the United States population are now fully vaccinated. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) relaxed its face mask guidelines for those people. It’s potentially good news for airlines and the airline industry.

The CDC has relaxed some face mask requirements, but will it affect the airlines? Photo: Don Wilson / Seattle Airport Newsroom

Can fully vaccinated passengers now not wear masks on flights?

In the short-term, travelers shouldn’t expect any immediate changes in the face-covering rules across America’s airlines. Monday’s CDC updated public health guidelines for fully vaccinated people relax the rules in three ways.

First, fully vaccinated people can visit other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing. That’s not really going to work on aircraft unless every other person on that plane is fully vaccinated.

Second, fully vaccinated people can visit unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.

Finally, fully vaccinated people can refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic.

Otherwise, the CDC says its business as usual when it comes to face masks. The CDC recommends face masks stay on when in public spaces. This includes airport terminals or when mixing with groups of unvaccinated people from multiple households – that sounds a lot like your typical aircraft passenger cabin.

The CDC continues to recommend in these environments, people continue to wear face masks, practice social distancing and good hygiene measures.

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Face masks will continue to be a feature of domestic air travel in the United States. Photo: Getty Images

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No immediate change for United States-based airlines

The upshot is the new CDC guidelines won’t have much impact on the face mask rules when catching a flight in the United States right now. Under federal law, it is mandatory to wear a face mask on all United States domestic flights.

“Federal law requires all travelers to wear a face mask in the airport, including customer service counters, airport lounges, gates, and baggage claim, and onboard during their entire flight,” says United Airlines. That’s a message repeated at the major United States airlines, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, and Southwest Airlines.

Nonetheless, industry group Airlines For America welcomes the CDC’s updated guidelines. While it doesn’t make any immediate difference to member airlines’ rules, it is a trend in the right direction.

“Since the onset of this crisis, U.S. airlines have relied on science to help guide decisions as they continuously reevaluate and update their processes, procedures, and protocols,” an Airlines for American spokesperson told Simple Flying today.

“We continue to work with the CDC and other appropriate authorities to ensure the implementation of travel policies and measures that prioritize the safety and wellbeing of all passengers and employees.”

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Federal law mandates the wearing of face masks on all United States domestic flights. Photo: Getty Images

The CDC continues to urge people to avoid travel

The CDC continues to urge people to avoid travel and stay at home. The public health organization currently states;

“Masks are required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in US transportation hubs such as airports and stations.”

The CDC advises public transports environments like aircraft can put a person at higher risk of COVID-19. That’s not a message airlines and industry groups such as Airlines for America will want to hear.

Airlines for America argues the risk of picking up COVID-19 on a flight is very low. Despite the publicity surrounding the updated CDC guidelines, anyone about to board a plane in the United States won’t see any changes in the face mask rules.

What do you think? Should the CDC have gone further in its update and allowed fully vaccinated people not to wear face coverings on planes? Post a comment and let us know.