By Chase Hagl
Mask Mandate Extended Through Early 2022
On Tuesday, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) extended the face mask mandate to Jan. 18, 2022, for passengers and crew onboard commercial aircraft or at U.S. airports. It is also extended to individuals on any form of public transportation like train and bus. The mandate aims to limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus and the recent surge in reported Delta variant infections.
The TSA had originally implemented a mask requirement on Feb. 1 with an end date of May 11. However, after an surge in reported cases, it announced in a press release that the mandate would be extended to Sept. 13. That brings us to today, where the mandate was yet again extended into early next year. The news of the extension was communicated by the Biden administration in a phone call late Tuesday night, as reported by Reuters.
Shortly following the announcement, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson commented stating, “Masks are the most effective tool to stop the spread of COVID-19. While vaccination has been key to the increased air travel demand, the lagging vaccination rates and rise of the Delta variant has caused cases to skyrocket again – threatening lives, continued virus mutation, and recovery from this pandemic. We have a responsibility in aviation to keep everyone safe and do our part to end the pandemic, rather than aid the continuation of it. Air travel is one of the most controlled indoor spaces with layers of safety protocols that make it possible to serve our communities.”
Record Numbers of Unruly Passengers
The extension of the mask mandate comes at a time where acts of aggression on flights continue to jump. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the airlines have experienced 3,889 incidents with passengers this year, more than double the amount of cases in 2020. Out of all of these incidents, 74% of them involved a guest who refused to comply with the federal law requirement of wearing a mask, often initiated by an airline employee enforcing the requirement.
Only seven and a half months into the year, the industry has seen the highest number of unruly passengers since record-keeping began in 1995.
As a result of the ever-growing number of incidents on airlines, the FAA is strictly enforcing a zero-tolerance policy towards passengers who cause disturbances on flights or fail to follow flight crew instructions. Failure to cooperate can result in fines up to $35,000 and imprisonment.
Extending the mask mandate until next year was not surprising due to the rapid increase in Covid-19 cases attributed to the Delta variant. The latest data shows the seven-day average of reported cases up 64% from two weeks ago at 140,000. Thus, the U.S. is currently seeing the highest level of Covid-19 cases since February.
Ultimately, the transportation industry and its passengers can expect to wear masks for the foreseeable future as long as Covid-19 cases persist. Along with this, the airlines can expect to see the continued rise of unruly passengers on their flights until the mask rules are loosened or lifted completely.