The federal mask mandate for air travel is set to expire on Mar. 18, but the country’s largest flight attendants’ union is urging the Biden administration to extend the mandate further.
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) told media outlets that it anticipates the mandate to be renewed before its expiration. The group represents more than 50,000 flight attendants nationwide.
Before any official mandates, many airlines began requiring travelers to wear masks in the spring of 2020. No mandate was issued until Feb. 2021, when the Biden administration approved a federal mask mandate. That mandate has been renewed twice since that time.
“We have every expectation that the mask mandate will be extended for the near term,” the AFA said in a recent statement to Bloomberg. “The conditions in aviation are the same. Our youngest passengers do not yet have access to the vaccine.”
According to the New York Times, the group said that allowing the mandate to expire would endanger young children and adults at greater risk of complications from COVID.
“The layered approach to safety and security includes masks,” said the AFA.
Mask mandates on public transportation continue across the country. However, most states, including New York, have ended mask mandates for most businesses. Gov. Glenn Youngkin took steps to end Virginia’s mask mandates for public schools.
In contrast to the AFA opinion, during a Senate hearing in December, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly questioned the effectiveness of masking on planes.
“I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment,” Kelly said. “It’s very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.”
In December, Dr. Anthony Fauci said it was unlikely mask-wearing on airplanes would come to an end.
ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked on This Week on Dec. 19, “Are we going to get to the point where we won’t have to wear masks on airplanes?”
“I don’t think so,” Fauci replied. “I think when you’re dealing with a close space, even though the filtration is good, that you want to go that extra step.”
Disputes over masks, and the refusal of some passengers to wear masks, led to frequent shouting matches, fights, and other problems with disorderly passengers throughout the pandemic. Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 15, the Federal Aviation Administration received almost 400 reports of unruly passengers, including 255 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal mask mandate.