The Push Has Started To Extend Federal Mask Rules For Planes

Sara Nelson, head of the AFA-CWA flight attendants union, is an influential labor leader with juice in the Democratic Party. While she was instrumental in securing bailouts for the airline industry, she doesn’t always get what she wants – Nelson was an advocate for a ban on leisure travel during the pandemic.

Nonetheless, Nelson’s AFA-CWA is pushing for an extension of the federal transportation mask mandate which currently runs through March 18. And she’s joined by the union representing cabin crew at American Airlines.

  • I have written that the mask mandate will most certainly end before the election, because the Biden administration needs to declare victory on the virus (and doing so sunsets the CDC’s regulation underlying the rule).

  • However they do not want to be proven to have done so too early, so my guess is they probably extend it one more time for a couple of months before allowing it to end in summer.

Nelson’s union is confused on its reasons for the mandate. It’s about the children but also justified by business reasons (so why would a mandate be needed, airlines required masks for their own business reasons before the federal government got involved).

“Our youngest passengers do not yet have access to the vaccine.”

[Spokesperson] Garland said masks help maintain passenger confidence in air travel. Despite a rapid return to air travel, passenger numbers are still below pre-pandemic levels, especially business and international travel.

Business travel is limited because many companies haven’t returned to office, and international travel because of restrictions imposed by governments – masks are in place now and haven’t led to a resurgence in business and international travel so it’s not clear why the mandate supports that.

Meanwhile, American’s flight attendants union says what about the children.

“While more of the world now has access to life-saving vaccines, we still have a significant portion of the population that are vulnerable, including our youngest passengers,” said Paul Hartshorn, a spokesman for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents about 24,550 employees at Fort Worth-based American Airlines.

Nevermind that children under 5 for whom vaccines aren’t approved are at less risk than fully vaccinated adults. The FDA postponed consideration of Pfizer’s vaccine for those aged 6 months to 4 years, despite zero safety concerns and strong efficacy for those up to age 2, because it’s likely to require a third dose for 3 and 4 year olds and they don’t have that data yet and won’t let children get a head start on the first two doses now.

I don’t mind masks, they are mildly annoying but I wear them even when not required when it seems respectful to others around me. I was an early proponent of masks before they were broadly recommended, arguing that flight attendants should be allowed to wear them in March 2020 when it still wasn’t permitted. And I’ve been an advocate of using better masks.

However at some point the availability of vaccines, treatments, and good quality N95 masks for those who wish to wear them means that they shouldn’t be required of everyone. I’ll probably wear one myself during flu (and Covid) season going forward but a government requirement here doesn’t make sense and, since not authorized by Congress, may not even be legal to begin with.

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, 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. Hidden agenda – it’s not about the masks. Get rid of the masks and the FAs will have to go back to serving alcohol in the main cabin, which they would like banned, but that’s an unpopular stance, so they hide their true goal. This is about doing less work for the same amount of money. If it wasn’t masks and “the children”, it would be about “the babies” or some other nonsense.

  2. If the government decides to extend it, they need to 1)lay out the criteria for an offramp, 2) show that masking on transit has actually worked to slow the spread. On the last point, they have had two years to gather data but I am yet to see a random control study to show that such lax masking has a real impact. The notion that the only place in the country where the public is at danger of spreading COVID, despite the industry simultaneously harping how much clean air recirculation is taking place, is on a plane/train/bus or in a terminal is sort of a joke.

  3. With the abundance of good quality American made N95 masks available now, it did not bother me as much that the idiot next to my basically did not wear a mask the whole flight or the countless people, who two years into the pandemic still do not know how to wear a mask. I wear the 3M Aura mask that you can find at your local Home Depot that are comfortable and will lady a 24 hour flight.

  4. It’s never been about science. Ever.

    It’s about the laptop class wanting everyone else to do what they tell them.

    I bought one of the ‘FakeMasks’
    It’s the way to go.

    Technically complies, but as breathable as a screen door. Feels like you are wearing nothing.
    Highly recommend this to anyone who travels (or, anyone who isn’t a total idiot and thinks masks do anything)

  5. @Don – can you share a link to those masks? I would like to purchase a few. No sense in making myself uncomfortable over something that does absolutely nothing to stop the spread of a virus that is approaching complete non-relevance for the vast majority of the population.

  6. The flight attendants wear cloth masks which have been shown to do nothing so why do passengers need to continue wearing masks?

  7. Honestly masks on an airplanes, and other forms of public transportation, can stay for a while. They don’t prevent you from eating / drinking, they are environments when vaccinated, unvaccinated, different households, etc all come together. I am for getting rid of mask mandates in other contexts, but this one is OK to me

  8. “I don’t mind masks”

    I do.

    If you want to wear one, knock yourself out.

    Sara Nelson? Go have sex with yourself.

  9. Get rid of the mask mandate and implement a requirement to be vaccinated or you don’t fly. Simple

  10. I would be in favor of N95 or similar mask mandates and banning the consumption of food and drink for flights less than 1 hour and 15 minutes.

  11. The masks are all about science of decreasing the spread and flattening the curve. The cases go down and the trend continues. The evidence is that whether or not you wear a mask, getting a vaccine + booster(s), you can still get infected with omicron. So this will happen sooner or later regardless of your masking on airplanes and elsewhere. The masks were never intended as the bulletproof defense – only to avoid the sharp peak in cases that would overwhelm the health care system. Once we passed the peak, none of the current measures make sense … unless you representing FA union.

  12. C_M has it right and the union leader views are not necessarily nor likely those of the majority of their flight attendant members

    They’re all about minimizing the work for the most senior attendants at the expense of passengers, shareholders, and their own peers

  13. Masks work to reduce all sorts of transmittable germs–flu, cold, TB. Personally, I’m happy to wear one when on packed-like-sardines public transport. But I would like the option to not be required to wear the mask when I am, say, walking through an airport.

    My guess is masks mandate will be modified for summer travel.

    Slightly off-topic, but maybe a reader has insight? My mother (85, cancer treatment during Covid), father (84), husband (74), and myself are all 3x vaxxed. Only my immunocompromised mom wears a mask now. None of us have yet had a detectable breakthrough case of Covid.

    However, my daughter, 29, and also 3x vaxxed, recently stayed with us for 3 weeks in our Florida condo. She developed a terrible–rash, fever, loss of taste–breakthough Covid case, she tested positive the entire time she was here. But not one of us geezers caught it from her, or we were asymptomatic. Meanwhile, we are hearing account after account of 3x vaxxed young adults (25-40) having breakthrough cases. This, despite all of us being lax with the masks. Any guesses why that particular age group is most affected? In other words, while those outside that age group seem to be having milder cases, if any?

  14. I don’t think these people realize that when the GOP comes to power they are all going to die in jail.

  15. Sara Nelson has lost the plot. Mask mandates aren’t boosting anyone’s confidence in flying.. In fact, it does quite the opposite. It sends a signal that flying is not safe. Fact of the matter is, flight attendant unions don’t want to have to work. They will use Covid as an excuse to do less for as long as they can.

  16. Tyrannical leftists gonna do what they do. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Doesn’t mean we have to let them get away with it.

  17. Unbelievably, Ron still hasn’t figured out that those injected with the experimental gene therapies can spread the “virus”. Where has he been the past six months?

  18. KimmieA we had a similar situation in our home around the first of the year. And talking with daughters college friends it was very common that they caught Covid and none of their parents or grandparents seemed to over winter break. We thought it was very strange also and most of her friends were vaccinated. She was being much more careful that we were when she caught it.

    Someday if that facts ever come out it will be very interesting to see when exactly people were contagious. For how long? What really was effective?

    If you want to mask, please do so but its time to move on from the mandating. It has been almost 2 years now, how much longer does this need to drag on?

  19. Put mask on, sit down. Take mask off. Eat something. Put mask on. Take mask off. Drink something. Put mask on…repeat cycles throughout flight. Please explain what any of this is doing.

  20. Gary, I have agreed with your thoughts on how the Democrats really, really need to end the mask mandates before the mid-term elections. However, as I read this post today it seems like Biden will have no power, even with his own folks (like this union leader) to do anything on this. It’s like wag the dog. I guess we’ll find out soon. If they extend it on airplanes I’d love to see the new extension date to be November 9th, 2022. #followthescience

  21. GetReal has totally got it.
    And it is time for airline execs who no longer have the government to bail them out to do what is right for the company and push back on unions where it is known that the union is not doing what is in the best interest of the company.

    The best validation of motivation for what the flight attendants are doing can be seen in teachers’ unions. There is a point at which leaders have to push back.

    Unfortunately, the Biden administration is beholden to unions so national policy will not be right but airlines are private sector companies where the execs and the stockholders have to demand what is in the best interest of the company, external factors including labor be damned.

  22. Do a search for fake mask worldwide.

    Be sure to get the 2 or 3 layer. I’ve been using these for awhile.

    No problem on airlines and you can breathe!

    I have the single layer that I use in stores. Love the stares I get. But it’s a mask!

  23. The vaccines are highly effective at protecting those who wish to be protected. People who want to wear a quality mask can also gain some protection that way. The current mask mandate does not require anything but a useless piece of cloth covering the nose and mouth. The interior of aircraft is one of the safest places to be, if among people, due to the air filtration systems. The mask mandate has no value now. Its basis is politics, not science.

  24. Jennifer (above) writes ” It has been almost 2 years now, how much longer does this need to drag on?”

    The virus WILL listen to politicians! The virus will think “it’s been 2 years, I will stop infecting when I see nasal tissue!”. NO!

    How about “I’ve worn condoms for 3 years. I am tired. I am going to start having bare sex with men and women, the HIV virus will have compassion and leave me alone.”?

  25. @derek, Ron et al other morons

    Don’t be stupid. You’ve done that, been there, and bought the souvenir t-shirt too many times.

    There was NEVER a reason to wear masks or play Russian Roulette with a gene-altering bioweapon!

    Fools. Utter fools.

  26. The first comment was an excellent example of someone who doesn’t do the job saying flight attendants want more money for less work. Typical. Asshat GOP’er.

  27. – they work like a champ, found out about them from a Southwest flight attendant.

  28. The mask mandate is great. I hope it stays around for a long time.

    It’s the perfect way to expose who is concerned about others and willing to put up with a minor inconvenience for the good of everyone, and expose those who are selfish a-holes who would screw anyone if they can get away with it. There’s no better way to quickly and completely reveal personal character.

  29. @Bobo: Move to Russia. Last time I checked, this was supposed to be a free country so don’t pretend that you have the right to tell anyone else what to do.

    You’re scared? Wear a hazmat suit, gloves, booties, a face mask, a plastic shield and throw in a respirator for good measure.

    George Washington would be turning in his grave with your mindset.

    I’m just disgusted with it.

  30. @1KBrad…The irony is that Bobo’s comments do more to reveal his character than any mask could ever do. It’s clearly evident he is little more than a compliant coward, who revels in being told what to do.

  31. @James N: I see it as far worse. Not only does he revel in being told what to do, he also advocates the legitimacy of others being told what to do as well.

    The biggest problem with progressives that I see is that they think big government can deal with issues better than the individual can and wish to accede power to that government.

    They obviously never worked for the government (I did). I always tell them to go down to the Department of Motor Vehicles to register a car. That should give them an idea of how incompetent government is.

    Of course, they still don’t get it.

  32. Like @1KBrad, I too have worked for the federal government, along with private industry and in education. (FWIW, education is by far the worst. Some good teachers, no good administrators. It’s a miracle anyone learns anything worthwhile.) In the federal government, there some dedicated employees who actually get things done, and the rest are worthless who clog up the system. I used to joke that if you really wanted to get things done in the federal government, you should fire the two thirds that do nothing, keep the one third that gets things done, double their salary, and return the remaining third to the taxpayers.

    My first year in the government, I made a tiny suggestion that saved over $400K. (Specs had changed on a part and the associated parts were now over-speced. Reducing their specs saved $1000 a unit.) As part of making the suggestion, I was due 1% of the savings. But when I put in to claim it, the reply was, there weren’t any “savings”, they had simply reallocated the money to something else. Congress had appropriated X number of dollars to the contractor, and they were going to get all of it – it was just a matter of how much the government was going to get for the money.

    I never bothered making another suggestion.

  33. If someone wants to keep masking(even in their cars traveling alone) let them…But really NO studies on real effectiveness for the last 2 years on masks or anything else about the big C

  34. It’s amazing to read a series of comments like these and see how sadly foolish many people are about masks – WHICH DO NOTHING. If you want to wear one, great, you’re free to do that. But don’t extend your panic and paranoia to normal people who understand that masks are worthless.

  35. I have not been and will not be enforcing this mandate on my flights. Anyone who comes to tattle on another passenger for not wearing a mask will have their concerns dismissed professionally by me. The union doesn’t speak for me.

  36. Off to eat and drink and on when not, simple just keep a glass in your hand. The mask mandate will stay in place as long as they think they can get away with it. Cabin air is cleaner than what you breath in public.

  37. Oh, I’m dying laughing here. “for the children” … it’s scary to think someone would think this reasoning made any sense, but scarier to think of how many people will buy into it. Excuse me, I ‘m off to look for an unmask. I would like to travel again at some point. Wear a mask over my nose? Not a chance.

  38. Warning to all you vax lovers….

    Poland, Slovakia and Iceland are the latest countries set to end most coronavirus restrictions. I may be visiting them. Advise you to not take any plane trips to those countries as you will certainly be contaminated from all of us tinfoils.

    However, you are free to go to other locked areas, where you are permitted to travel with your vax card. Enjoy your time in those countries!

  39. I’m a FA at a major airline and am not one of the sky Karen’s. I don’t come to work to harass people. The masks are total BS and I’ve petitioned AFA to stop the lobbying for the extension. Of course it falls on deaf ears. And yes, I agree, some of my coworkers just like to be lazy

  40. The press release doesn’t say that. They say some of their members want it extended and others don’t and that the afa isn’t take a stand either way. Read it

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