US Senator Introduces Bill Mandating Masks And Blocking Middle Seats

An American senator is hoping to make specific coronavirus safety measures law through the introduction of a new bill. By introducing the Maintaining Important Distance During Lengthy Epidemics (MIDDLE) Act of 2020, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley hopes to make face masks mandatory while also banning the sale of middle (and adjacent) seats while the coronavirus situation continues.

American Airlines 767
The bill would have a long way to go before actually becoming law. Photo: Getty Images

“Filling planes to capacity, forcing passengers to sit shoulder to shoulder for hours at a time, is incredibly irresponsible during a pandemic…I’ve seen with my own eyes that airlines are willing to put their profit margins ahead of the health of their customers. If taxpayers are going to bail out airlines because they provide an essential service, it is not too much to expect the airlines not to make the pandemic worse.” -Senator Jeff Merkley

The MIDDLE Act of 2020

At the beginning of the month, we wrote about Senator Merkley’s intention to introduce a bill after his experience on a full commercial flight.

Merkley has made good on his pledge to do something about these full flights, introducing the MIDDLE Act of 2020. This act would do the following:

  • Prohibit air carriers from filling a seat adjacent to another occupied seat on a passenger aircraft during the pandemic.
  • Allow the Federal Aviation Administration to make allowances for families traveling together.
  • Prohibit any potential passenger or crewmember from boarding an airplane without wearing a mask,
  • Bar airlines from charging customers fees associated with seat switching undertaken by airlines to comply with the regulations.

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Where do we go from here?

Just because a bill has been introduced doesn’t mean it is guaranteed to become law. In fact, the bill faces numerous steps on its way to becoming law – all stages at which the bill could fail or stall. These include subcommittee review, voting by Congress and the Senate, and approval by the President.

Approval by both the Senate and Congress would need to happen. Photo: Getty Images

Therefore, it is doubtful that this bill will make it through to the other side as a law. This is due to the fierce nature of US politics and the fact that Republicans are likely to see this an overreach of the Government.

As this bill would have a substantial financial impact on airlines, we would expect lobbyists to be out in Washington in full force, convincing members of the Government to vote against this bill.

What does the science have to say?

recent study from MIT showed that, technically, there could be an increased risk of catching COVID-19 if the middle seat was not blocked. However, the same study also showed that the risk of contracting the virus on a plane is 1 in 7,700 if middle seats are left empty and 1 in 4,300 if middle seats are filled.

We can expect this study and its numbers to be mentioned as an argument against blocking the middle seat. Furthermore, if all airlines have already taken it upon themselves to make masks mandatory onboard, risk is further decreased, and another reason the MIDDLE Act is not likely to pass.

Do you think this bill has any chance of passing and becoming law? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.