Federal Air Travel Mask Mandate Extended One Month

The Biden administration wasn’t quite ready to let the federal transportation mask mandate lapse, out of fear they’d look stupid if Covid-19 cases surged again. But they know the mandate is on its last legs. Every state is eliminating its indoor mask mandates (or has already done so). Even if cloth masks were effective against the Omicron variant, this mandate would do very little on its own.

The federal mask mandate for commercial airlines, airports, trains and buses was set to end March 18. It will be extended through April 18. That one month extension, announced a mere 8 days before the rule would have lapsed, is the shortest extension yet. And, barring unforeseen events, is likely to be the last.

Already the 7 day moving average of confirmed cases is down 95% from peak. Boosters are widely available and highly protective against hospitalization. Treatments have become much more available. And the country as a whole is shifting from ‘delay cases’ (bend the curve to protect hospital capacity, and so that infections come when we have better protection available) to living with a less virulent strain: get vaccinated, stay home when sick, and seek care quickly if you need it.

The transportation mask mandate was never about the most effective way to slow spread. The masks that are permitted don’t help much, and airplane cabin environments are safer than indoor restaurants and bars. Instead it was about politics: transportation potentially implicated federal powers, it was the rule they could muster not the one that would help. And now they don’t to appear to be ‘giving up the fight’.

Yet politics demands that the mask mandate will be lifted. The administration is heading into midterm elections with control of both the House and Senate in the balance. They don’t want to be imposing rules on people in a way that’s seen as dated and out of touch. And that’s doubly true now with gas prices elevated and markets in retreat in the face of inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Since the mandate was issued at the start of 2021 I said it would end before the midterms. In 2022 I said that it would see one more extension and that I guessed that would be for two months, but I was uncertain of this. A one-month extension was certainly within the range of expected outcomes, though it’s time for the mask mandate and the testing requirement to enter the U.S. to end.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @ David Miller…you do have an eloquent way with words! Any third grader would be proud! No wonder you admire that guy who has the same limited vocabulary as you.

    You know the guy who can’t string any sentence together without inserting “very strongly, very powerful”, & “something like you’ve never seen before.”

    I shouldn’t pick on him though…I mean the big, bad tough guy DID have bone spurs which messed up his chance to fight in Vietnam. Even though today he doesn’t remember which foot!

    Hope to see you in an airport soon! Have a great day!!!

  2. WN – and you have a way with stupidity. You are stupid, you say stupid things and you think that anyone who rightfully disagrees with your stupidity as being stupid. In the 14 months since President Trump has been out of office, brain dead Biden has fucked America in every possible way. And ignorant assholes such as yourself are stuck on disrespecting all of the America first accomplishments that President Trump did because he hurt your “feelings” with mean, truthful tweets. You are such a dumb bastard and a liberal tool.

  3. @David Miller: I can’t believe I would ever agree with anything Hillary Clinton ever said…but you really are “deplorable”.

  4. @WB right on! Right-wing fanatics are doing their best to make a mountain out of a mole hill. If they can work themselves into a frenzy over masks, they think people will forget that their hero did his best to overturn a valid U.S. national election! They give lip service to patriotism and the constitution. But when it comes down to it, all they care about is maintaining a stranglehold on power. Disregarding the lawful votes of 81 million Americans is their idea of patriotism.

  5. Always nice to see people so limited in their thinking that they think that anyone who opposes/supports one side must immediately support/oppose the other side. There are more than two sides here. It’s even possible to think that the current and former president are both horrible in their own special way and wish America would get over electing doddering old warhorses from yesteryear. In a nation of 330 million, THIS is the best you could come up with. And the losing candidates weren’t any better.

  6. This extension is ridiculous. I demand the unvaccinated be held accountable immediately for their stupidity. I’m tired of protecting them from themselves by being forced to wear a mask.

  7. WB you are a moron by the very definition ! David Miller Thanks for saying everything that I was thinking and saving me from a long post!

  8. John if making a “mountain out of a molehill” is being ok with unsecured borders, rising inflation, out of control gas prices, and so on…..then yes I am doing so. Glad you are independently wealthy and none of this coverts you.

  9. @C_M…Spot on! Whenever I see people arguing about which side of the political spectrum is better for society, it’s apparent they haven’t paid much attention to history for about the last 100+ years. As I always say, “It’s not Rs versus Ds, it’s us versus them”.

  10. Additional comments made in the afternoon stated the additional month is to give the CDC an opportunity to further refine rules for when mask will be needed on public transportation. I take this to mean we will soon face mask requirements anytime CDC thinks they are warranted. They will issue an advisory and TSA/FAA will implement the order. Based on the track record we have seen it would appear we will see a mask mandate any time influenza, a new Covid variant, or any other danger CDC can use as an excuse to exercise their new power. I am vaccinated and encourage others to do the same. But giving the CDC this kind of power is ridiculous. As an agency it has already demonstrated it does not take anything but the health risk factor into account when making rules. There is no such thing as zero risk and trying to achieve zero risk only results in harsh, draconian rules from an authoritarian government. It is going to take a Republican administration or Congress to take action to prevent this kind of over zealous rule making by a government agency. CDC is yet another reason why people have lost faith in government to do what is right.

  11. Hey Bill,
    You are correct, but a RINO BUSH type GOP administration will not solve anything. We need a Reagan/Trump type administration. However, the snowflake liberals on blog will go nuts with that comment!

  12. Someone made the point that the only restrictions that make sense in the United States now are the ones you are willing to make permanent. When there’s a spike, the media are all over it with their bad news bias, but now when cases are down well over 95% (and hospitalizations and deaths are plummeting in turn with a predictable five-weeks lag) you get the “not yet”, “too soon”, “maybe someday” attitudes such as the government showed with the masking extension. We are never going to get rid of this plague entirely, so we need to stop treating it as a crisis to govern our decisions and planning when it isn’t. At my workplace, masks become optional today, and I’ll be curious to see how many follow the CDC guidance that they are not necessary now except for people with certain defined conditions, and how many cling to that “not yet”, “too soon”, “maybe someday” mentality.

  13. TSA Administrator Pekoske is the person that sets the mask mandate, but for the Biden administration it’s a no-brainer. Pekoske is leaving TSA next month, so he can be the “bad guy” for this and it gives the Administration more time. It’s illogical there are no masks mandated in any Federal buildings, but remaining only on transportation. Biden can say it wasn’t his call, and technically he is correct.

  14. What is more desireable is for the USofA to drop the ONE DAY before negative covid test requirement for EVERYONE who wants to fly into the USA from another country. More and more countries are dropping this requirement (at least for fully vacinnated people). Alsok it only affects air and ship passengers…..you can drive into the USA from Canada without any negative covid test.
    So….not only should the mandatory mask requirement be eliminated, so should the negative covid test taken within 24 hours of your flight to the USA.

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