This week, the CEOs of the country’s biggest airlines sent a letter asking the Biden administration to drop the federal mask mandate on airplanes and the pre-departure testing requirement for international travelers.
Although COVID-19 cases have declined in the last two months and restrictions are being lifted across the country, the CDC extended its mass transit mask mandate until mid-April, and masking guidelines for airlines remain in place.
“Now is the time for the administration to sunset federal transportation travel restrictions – including the international pre-departure testing requirement and the federal mask mandate – that is no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment,” the airline CEOs said in their letter.
The letter notes that while the airlines and their employees supported the federal mask mandate when it was first implemented, they now feel it is unnecessary.
“Given that we have entered a different phase of dealing with this virus, we strongly support your view that ‘COVID-19 need no longer control our lives,'” the letter states.
While initially popular with employees, flight attendants and gate agents, in particular, have taken the brunt of flyer frustration over the masking rules during the past two years.
The number of customers traveling via airlines is still lower than pre-pandemic levels, yet cases of disruptive passengers have soared over the last two years. Last year, airlines banned thousands of passengers due to unruly behavior.
“It is critical to recognize that the burden of enforcing both the mask and pre-departure testing requirements has fallen on our employees for two years now,” the letter read. “This is not a function they are trained to perform and subjects them to daily challenges by frustrated customers.”
The letter points to the CDC’s most recent guidance suggesting that 99% of the U.S. population live in low or medium transmission areas and no longer needs to wear masks.
The CEOs further noted that masks could still be worn voluntarily, even if the mandate was removed.