The Southwest Airlines flight attendants union has written to Vice President Joe Biden, formally requesting that the federal face mask law be repealed. One of the reasons flight attendants no longer want mandatory inflight masks, according to the union, is the substantial increase in violent flight attendant assaults and belligerent passenger occurrences.
The letter was sent to President Joe Biden, Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and serving FAA Administrator Steve Dickson by the TWU 556 union. The letter was also delivered to TSA Administrator David Pekosk, whose agency is in charge of executing the order on behalf of the CDC.
Southwest flight attendants are said to be the first to publicly urge the repeal of the face mask rule, while the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) has begun to adopt a neutral stance on the issue after previously staunchly supporting the mandate.
According to TWU 556’s letter, the order can now be lifted due to a drop in COVID-19 instances and hospitalizations.
“The drastic decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases warrants re-evaluating the mandate’s extension through April 18, 2022. Based on data received from local and national health authorities, many state and local governments, including public schools, are already rescinding their mandates.”
While violent assaults on its members, the union claims that it has continued to execute the mandate, despite not always agreeing with it.
“The number of physical and verbal assaults in our workplace has increased dramatically, many of which are related to mask compliance,.”
“Through it all, our members have continued to respond professionally and responsibly with safety and security as our main priority. It is important to note that a large portion of our membership has expressed that they would like the freedom to choose whether to wear a mask at work,” the letter read.
The federal face mask mandate took effect on February 2, 2021, and has been renewed multiple times since then. It was just extended for another month and will not expire on April 18.
However, if a surge in the highly transmissible BA.2 Omicron sub-variant leads to an increase in hospitalizations and deaths, the mandate could be extended again.
Last December, former Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told a Senate committee that face masks “don’t add much” to passenger safety. The remarks were seen as a request to have the mandate withdrawn.
At Southwest, the face mask mandate has been a difficult subject, with the flight attendant union recently criticizing the airline’s pilots for breaking masking laws. During a layover, a Southwest pilot allegedly assaulted a flight attendant over face masks in one high-profile incident.