The chief executives of American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and 10 other carriers, including the chairman of Southwest Airlines and JetBlue’s CEO, said in a letter the restrictions “are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment.”
Currently the mandates on airports, train stations, rideshare vehicles and other transit modes run through April 18. It was originally set to expire on March 18 before being extended by the Biden administration.
“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 airline letter said.
The letter cited relaxed rules in other countries and increasing vaccination rates for the reasons to stop requiring masks.
However, epidemiologist Dr. Enbal Shacham said while the country is moving in the right direction regarding COVID-19, planes and airports are hotbeds for spreading the virus, and science doesn’t back taking off face coverings quite yet.
“The science actually is begging for us to continue this reduced approach,” Shacham said, as planes are the “intersection of infectious disease,” with people coming from “lots of places all over the world.”
Mask requirements have resulted in friction on airplanes, with a record 6,942 unruly passenger incidents reported since January 2021. Of those, 70% involved masking rules.
Airline staff asked by NewsNation said they feel like it’s time for the mask mandate to go away in the airport and on airplanes.
A Spirit Airlines pilot said, “I can’t drink coffee like this,” while a Delta flight attendant said “I really do just think it’s time.”
Passengers at America’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, were more mixed on whether they’re ready for masks to come off.
“It’s not time because this stuff is not over — why relax it?” one person NewsNation talked to asked. Another, on the other hand, said people have “endured long enough.”
The White House declined to comment on the letter to Reuters, but earlier this month said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was working to help develop “a revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the CDC was reporting 26,958 cases of COVID-19 and 79,648,566 cases in total. Currently, 14,265 people are hospitalized with the virus, and 255,001,325 people have had at least one vaccine dose.
When it comes to how people feel about COVID-19, a NewsNation poll released Thursday shows upward of 64% of people asked were concerned about the pandemic. In comparison, about 90% of people polled were concerned about inflation.
Reuters contributed to this report.