President Biden issued an executive order that included mask-wearing for transportation, including air travel. However that doesn’t mean there’s a federal mask rule now. There isn’t. Instead the Executive Order instructed government agencies to come up with one and they’re trying to figure out what to do and how to do it.
We may get different rules from different agencies covering different modes of transportation, “[i]n addition to the FAA, the Transportation Department includes the Federal Railroad Administration overseeing trains, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration overseeing buses, and the Federal Transit Administration, which is involved in transit system oversight. The Coast Guard regulates ferry safety.”
While a federal government mask rule is meant as a uniform idea, it’s not one agency that’s actually in charge.
The FAA could fine mask violators as “disruptive or non-compliant passengers” up to $20,000, because failing to wear a mask is deemed an “imminent threat to safety of (an) aircraft or the collective safety of other individuals.” The FAA typically negotiates down fine amounts.
FAA action could come “within approximately two weeks.” The FAA may require or recommend airlines “include the mask rule in the pre-flight safety instructions and demonstrations.”
Although a multimodal transportation rule could come out of the Department of Transportation. And the TSA, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, is working on its own rules.
[TSA is] exploring how the agency, in conjunction with the DOT, FAA, CDC and TSA’s security partners (i.e., airports, airlines), can work collaboratively to enforce the President’s travel order for travelers to wear masks while in airports, on planes, trains, ferries, intercity buses, mass transit and passenger rail systems.
The bottom line is that the Biden administration doesn’t yet know what mask rules will be, how they’ll apply to young children or those with medical challenges, how they’ll interact with private sector rules already in place, who will issue the rules, or what enforcement will look like. We’re likely a couple of weeks away from knowing the answers to these questions.