US Lawmakers Debate Ending Mask Requirement On Flights

US lawmakers are considering a proposal to end the mask mandate on flights, airports, and ground transport. The debate comes as the US has lifted mask requirements in virtually all other situations, including indoors. However, the proposal has run into strict opposition from cabin crew unions, who see the mandate as critical for now.

United 737-800
Planes and airports are one of the few places where masks continue to be required in the US. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

No more masks?

The US has seen its COVID-19 situation turnaround dramatically in the last few months after a successful vaccination program. With 58% of all adults fully vaccinated, cases have fallen sharply to their lowest levels in months. This has allowed the country to ease mask requirements for fully vaccinated individuals. Domestic traffic has bounced back to near pre-pandemic levels too, a huge achievement for the industry.

However, there are still a few places where masks are needed and this includes airports and flights. This has led to some debate among Senators as to whether masks should still be required on flights anymore. Some have come forward with proposals to end the mandate as soon as the end of the month, which has raised alarm.

Southwest Airlines
Airlines have been strictly implementing their mask requirements and have removed or banned many for failing to comply. Photo: Getty Images

Currently, the TSA and CDC mask mandate is set to expire on September 13th. Considering the mandate was extended in early May, the government seems keen to have it around for at least a few more months. The same can’t be said about flight attendants, the ones on the frontlines of flying daily.

In a statement to Forbes, the President of the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 50,000 flight attendants, Sara Nelson said,

“We certainly look forward to the day that masks are no longer required, but we are not there yet for transportation. There should be no question about the need to keep the federal mask mandate in place at least through September 13th. Until the pandemic is under control, we continue to support all efforts, including mask mandates, to stop the spread of the virus and the harm it has caused to our lives and livelihoods.”

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The debate around ending mask requirements also comes at a time when a new variant grows in the US. Cases of the highly infectious Delta variant have grown dramatically in recent weeks, increasing the risk of another wave among unvaccinated individuals, as seen in the UK and a host of other countries.

While fully vaccinated individuals still maintain high protection against the Delta variant, it is impossible to distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers. This means the risk of transmission on flights, which are already closed spaces, remains very high. Considering this, the opposition of flight attendants and the government makes sense.

US Lawmakers Debate Ending Mask Requirement On Flights
While cases have increased in the US, the risk remains high. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Notably, nearly every country in the world, even those with little to no local cases, also need masks on flights. For now, it seems unlikely that the CDC will reverse its mask order on planes in the near future. September 13th seems like a likely date for the end of the mask mandate, assuming cases remain low.

What do you think about the US’ decision to maintain its mask requirement on flights? Let us know in the comments!