Airline CEOs push for end to mask mandate on planes

Masked passengers fill a Southwest Airlines flight from Burbank to Las Vegas. So far this year, nearly 1 in 6 flight attendants nationwide has had a physical experience with an unruly passenger, mostly involving people who were drunk and obstinate about face mask rules. (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Combined ShapeCaption
Masked passengers fill a Southwest Airlines flight from Burbank to Las Vegas. So far this year, nearly 1 in 6 flight attendants nationwide has had a physical experience with an unruly passenger, mostly involving people who were drunk and obstinate about face mask rules. (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Delta CEO Ed Bastian and other airline heads wrote a letter to President Joe Biden, urging an end to the federal mask requirement

After nearly two years of strictly enforcing mask mandates on planes and punishing travelers who don’t comply, airlines are now pushing for an end to the federal mask requirement for air travel.

They are also asking that the U.S. drop its requirements that international travelers get tested for COVID-19 before entering the country. Canada, the United Kingdom and countries in Europe have already lifted travel restrictions.

Other travel groups also are advocating for the removal of the restrictions, which they say curtail business.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian and other airline CEOs wrote a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday asking that the administration “sunset federal transportation travel restrictions – including the international pre-departure testing requirement and the federal mask mandate.”

Bastian said in a separate written statement that “the federal mask mandate and pre-departure testing no longer fits with the current environment.”

“Current data and science show it’s time to move from mandates to guidance and personal health choices,” he said.

In their letter, the executives emphasized their use of air filtration systems, as well as the vertical airflow in airplane cabins, which they say make planes “one of the safest indoor environments.”

“It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do,” the letter said.

They added that airline employees who have been enforcing the mask requirement and testing requirements have been subjected to “daily challenges by frustrated customers.” That “takes a toll on their own well-being.”

The letter was signed by the heads of Delta, American, United, Southwest, JetBlue, UPS Airlines, Alaska Air Group, Atlas Air, FedEx Express, Hawaiian Airlines and their industry lobbying group Airlines for America.

The Transportation Security Administration recently extended the mask mandate on planes and public transportation until April 18. The one-month extension is much shorter than previous extensions, which could indicate that the federal government is reconsidering the requirement.