United flight attendants said the airline’s plan to allow anti-masker passengers to return to the friendly skies is premature and “no way to support” staff who were responsible for implementing the federal face mask rule and faced a barrage of rage and abuse.
United Airlines has followed Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines in announcing preparations to lift travel bans for passengers who were placed on ‘no-fly’ lists after refusing to follow face mask rules.
United said its almost 1,000-passenger no-fly list will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, with travel bans lifted only for those who “agree to obey all crew member instructions on board.”
Passengers who “demonstrated extreme behavior,” as Alaska and Delta have done, will remain on United’s no-fly list, but flight attendants feel the airline has jumped the gun.
Within days of a Florida judge striking down the federal face mask regulation, United announced its intention to eliminate travel restrictions on anti-maskers.
“The airlines need to slow down and think about all of the potential consequences of any policy changes,” said Sara Nelson, head of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), which represents flight attendants at United, Alaska, and 15 other airlines, including Frontier and Spirit. Delta’s crew members are likewise being pushed to join the union.
“Not one banned passenger should be allowed back until there is a thorough discussion with unions, public health officials, and other stakeholders,” Nelson told U.S. media late last week. She has described the rush to rescind travel bans as “outrageous”.
“While the mask mandate is over, bringing formerly banned passengers back within 24 hours of lifting the mandate is no way to support Flight Attendants who are charged with the safety of the passengers in our care while ensuring confidence in our industry,” said the local union which represents United’s flight attendants.
“It is our view that this announcement is premature and without proper context for front-line employees,” the union said.
The decision did not come as a surprise to the flight attendants. They acknowledge that nonviolent anti-maskers would be able to fly again at some point. After all, airlines have always stated that prohibited customers will be permitted to return if the face mask regulations were relaxed.
United’s flight attendants, on the other hand, claim the speed with which the no-fly list is being destroyed is excessive, and carriers have yet to determine what would happen if face mask requirements were reinstated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has filed a formal appeal with the Department of Justice, requesting that the mask rule be overturned.
Despite a rush by airlines, including United, to relax mask requirements within hours of the court order, the CDC maintains masking on planes “remains vital for public health.”
Over the last few months, the US airline industry has petitioned the CDC and White House officials to permanently repeal masking laws on public transportation, but the Biden administration maintains that the federal face mask mandate is lawful and necessary.