Flight attendants at several major U.S. airlines are requesting that the federal face mask regulation, which includes public transit including airplanes, be extended once again.
The controversial mask mandate imposed by the Biden administration is set to expire on March 18, but observers are waiting to hear from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on whether the rules will be extended.
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), which represents over 50,000 flight attendants at a number of major airlines, including United, claims that the mandate has enhanced consumer confidence in the face of pandemic limitations and infection fears.
However, the rule has been blamed for an uptick in rowdy passenger encounters in the last year, putting the aviation industry in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Flight attendants have been beaten and abused at alarmingly high rates, while a high-profile federal campaign to curb disruptive passengers is beginning to change the trend.
The increase in violent occurrences at 38,000 feet has been attributed to mental instability, as well as drug and alcohol addiction.
“The conditions in aviation are the same,” commented AFA spokesperson Taylor Garland about the union’s decision to back a further extension of the mandate.
“The airplane is a unique but controlled environment for everyone’s safety,” Garland told the Dallas News. “The layered approach to safety and security includes masks.”
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American Airlines crew members, agreed with those comments. Masks continued to protect vulnerable persons who had to travel, according to Paul Hartshorn.
“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,” Hartshorn explained.
Nonetheless, President Biden and the CDC are under increasing pressure to repeal the masking restrictions.
A growing number of states, counties, and towns are abandoning local masking laws, placing federal rules in conflict with most Americans’ daily lives.
Although the airline industry maintains that airplane cabins are far safer than other public indoor locations such as supermarkets and restaurants, it continues to lobby for onboard masking on the grounds that it increases consumer confidence.
There are also rising requests for the CDC to adopt the concept of “one-way masking,” in which vulnerable persons wear a high-quality N95 mask while those around them remain uncovered.
While vaccines and antiviral pills have altered the course of the pandemic, Garland believes masks will continue to be an important part of the multi-layered approach to safety – known as the Swiss cheese model because even if the virus gets through one hole, another layer of protection will prevent infection.
The present federal masking regulations apply to all passengers aged two and up, with several exceptions for disabled passengers. Passengers are also permitted to remove their masks in order to eat or drink.
The TSA is in charge of executing the regulation, but flight attendants are on the front lines of enforcing the rules on a daily basis.