Today, a US senator said that he was looking for congressional support for making it a legal requirement for passengers to wear masks on aircraft. While most US airlines require passengers to wear masks, it does not yet come under the law.
The FAA resists calls for a mandate
As reported by Reuters today, Senator Brian Schatz said that he would be seeking bipartisan support for legislation to make the wearing of masks by air travelers mandatory. Speaking at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on aircraft certification, Senator Schatz said,
“I don’t understand why we are going with a private sector-driven approach here or a voluntary approach.”
His call came as Steve Dickson, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), once again resisted making masks a mandatory requirement. He said that the FAA and Department of Transportation (DOT) expect air travelers to follow the policies and directions of the individual airlines.
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.@brianschatz on requiring masks on airplanes, "Why don't you want to make this a rule?"
FAA Admin. Steven Dickson: "with respect to public health, that's the CDC. & of course, they have responsibilities for sectors of transportation, & really the entire public health situation" pic.twitter.com/EdTZp2aBhH
— CSPAN (@cspan) June 17, 2020
Officials of the FAA have previously said that they don’t believe the agency has to authority to enforce the wearing of masks. Mr Dickson stated that the FAA oversees aviation safety, but responsibility for public health is the remit of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He added that the FAA was working with airlines and other agencies to ensure that the guidelines are consistent.
US airlines take a tough stance on masks
Last month, US airlines were called into question for requiring the wearing of masks by passengers, but not enforcing it. Policies vary, but it seemed that cabin crew were strongly advising customers to wear one, but when resisted, they were not forcing the issue. Without uniform legislation, airline staff was concerned about their right to enforce mask-wearing, mainly where medical conditions might be involved.
However, it was reported yesterday that US airlines are set to take a tough stance with passengers who refuse to wear a face covering. Airlines for America (A4A), which represents ten airlines, has organized them into a coalition to enforce strict new policies on face coverings. Passengers who refuse to comply could find themselves banned from airlines.
The self-regulation move by A4A provides a degree of the uniformity that Senator Schatz is looking for. However, without the backing of a legal mandate, it still leaves room for inconsistencies. Passengers can be denied boarding at the gate, but how far can cabin crew take enforcement on board the aircraft?
The aviation industry should have consistent rules
As the aviation industry emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, it has been left to individual airlines to implement their own health rules. There has been much debate over the benefits of wearing masks. Also, does leaving empty seats between passengers make any difference in the confined cabin of an aircraft?
It has now generally been accepted that wearing a mask does help to stop the spread of COVID-19. But social distancing on a plane continues to divide opinion. The lack of consistency can only cause confusion and distress for passengers who may already be nervous about traveling in the “new normal.”
Do you think it should be consistent laws imposed on air travel to prevent the spread of COVID-19? Or should it be left to the airlines? Let us know in the comments below.