President Biden is set to extend the federal transportation mask mandate out to January 18, 2022. Major U.S. airlines were informed on a call today, with airline unions set to be told on Wednesday.
Even when the CDC lifted its guidance that vaccinated Americans wear masks indoors, the mask mandate for air travel which is generally considered safer than most other indoor congregant settings remained. When the CDC again recommended indoor masking, it seemed clear that the requirement for air travel would remain in place.
U.S. airlines have universally required mask-wearing on their own since last summer. President Biden campaigned on mask requirements, but once in office didn’t press for legislation and found that current federal powers could only be stretched to cover transportation and transport hubs.
- The FAA and TSA lacked legal authority for a mask rule on their own.
- Instead the requirement was based on 42 USC 264(a), the same power used for the CDC’s eviction moratorium and which spells out CDC authority for fumigation, pest extermination, and destruction of animals as a means of controlling the spread of communicable diseases.
When first rolled out, the mask mandate was largely duplicative – except since it applies to everyone two years old or older, it overrode Delta’s exemption for young children, and since it requires a medical exemption process United, Southwest, and American had to marginally loosen their rules.
The mandate was originally set to end in May, but was extended through September 13, 2021. Last month I predicted that the mask mandate would be extended.
- Some Biden advisors would like the transportation mask mandate to be permanent. That would either require a change in law, or for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to keep in place the determination that a public health emergency exists (under 42 USC 247d) indefinitely.
- My prediction has consistently been that mask rules would end sometime before the 2022 midterms. Control over both the U.S. House and Senate are very close and the President will want to symbolically declare victory, rather than make his appearing to extend pandemic controls indefinitely an election issue in the handful of contestable races.
Early in the pandemic masks gave customers confidence to fly. Even if they were an inconvenience for the traveler, seeing everyone else masked made passengers feel safer. That’s no longer the case and airline CEOs have been vocal about a desire for the requirement to end.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker has been saying for two months that the airline would bring back inflight alcohol when the mask mandate ends, since mask mandates have been the driver of tension on planes and an increase in passenger incidents.
I think it’s a great idea to properly wear a high quality mask in indoor congregant settings like airports, which lack the HEPA air filtration of planes. I also don’t see a need to require people to wear masks largely for the protection of those who choose not to get vaccinated, with vaccines plentiful and approval for boosters imminent as well. For a single ply of paper with two strings satisfying the mask mandate, the rule itself is next to useless for actually controlling spread of virus.