Biden Indicators Order Requiring Face Coverings On Planes : NPR
President Joe Biden holds a pamphlet as he speaks about the coronavirus in the White House state dining room on Thursday. Alex Brandon / AP hide caption
Alex Brandon / AP
Alex Brandon / AP
Mask yourself or you are not allowed to get on a plane, train or bus. President Biden signed an executive order on Thursday requiring passengers to wear face covers while traveling between states.
It is one of ten orders signed by the president today to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which killed more than 400,000 Americans.
Airlines and their staff have been looking for such a federal mask mandate almost since the beginning of the pandemic, as they struggled to cope with a large number of passengers who refuse to comply with the airlines’ own mask wearing rules.
But the Trump administration had refused to issue such a mask mandate because Trump himself and many in his administration were often careful to work without a mask. The former president hosted large rallies with like-minded supporters, often mocking Biden and others who wore masks, despite overwhelming evidence that properly worn face coverings significantly reduced the risk of coronavirus transmission.
As a result, disputes between passengers over a person’s refusal to wear a face mask have become all too familiar during the pandemic.
Videos like this of a brawl between passengers on a Spirit Airlines flight that just landed in Puerto Rico last October have been hitting all of social media as some travelers think it’s worth it to wear a mask to fight in the plane.
“People who come aboard find masks not strictly necessary and have questioned mask compliance across the board, also because it has become a political issue,” said Taylor Garland, spokeswoman for the union’s Association of Flight Attendants , who represents 50,000 representatives for flight attendants at United and several other airlines.
She says while some passengers refuse to wear masks before boarding, many mask resistors will take them off in mid-flight to flaunt airline rules, and when Garland is asked to put their masks back on, they will the passengers frequently abused and threatened flight attendants.
“And that’s worrying when you’re in the air at 30,000 feet or more and don’t have all of the tools (and law enforcement support) you normally use on the ground,” says Garland.
The US Department of Transportation has received more than 150 safety complaints about passengers violating airline mask requirements. And the airlines themselves have banned thousands of passengers from flying with them again because they refused to wear masks. Among them, Delta banned more than 880 passengers, United more than 600, and Alaska more than 300.
Despite these measures, many passengers continue to refuse to adhere to airline mask rules, which is why Garland says a federal mask mandate is required for air travel.
“When the government makes a requirement or a law, people listen,” Garland says. “People will be more responsive to the law than to any particular airline policy or a question from a flight attendant.”
She adds that federal penalties, including hefty fines of up to $ 35,000 or even jail sentences for passengers attacking other passengers or crew members, carry much more weight than being banned from flying on a particular airline.
“Knowing that we have the backing of the federal government is critical to ensuring strict mask compliance in all areas,” says Garland.
The mask mandate is also needed because masks have been shown to be effective in reducing the spread of the coronavirus, says Leonard Marcus, director of the Aviation Public Health Initiative at Harvard School of Public Health, which has studied the risk of coronavirus transmission in air travel.
“Masks reduce the likelihood of someone spreading the disease to another person by 40 to 60%. They reduce the likelihood of acquiring the disease by 40 to 50%,” depending on the type of mask. Worn viral loads and other factors, says Marcus, who served as the transition advisor for Biden’s coronavirus team.
The APHI study found that the universal use of masks and physical distancing in combination with the HEPA ventilation and filtration systems used in commercial aircraft today, comparable to those in hospital operating theaters, reduced the risk of infection from respiratory particles in an airplane can decrease less than 1%.
The mask is an important protective layer, says Marcus, and this is especially true the longer a person is trapped in a narrow metal tube for hours and may sit only a few inches away from fellow travelers.
“If everyone wears a mask, the risk of transmission is greatly reduced. A lot has been studied about this,” says Marcus. “And that is especially true for airplanes because we are in close proximity.”
On Wednesday, as one of his first acts in the Oval Office, Biden signed an executive order requiring all government employees and visitors to state and federal buildings to wear a face mask. To order on Thursday, anyone traveling on a commercial airline, passenger train, or intercity bus must also wear a face covering.
Biden was asked about this mandate in his Senate confirmation hearing today. Pete Buttigieg, who was appointed Secretary of Transportation, said it was necessary to restore the confidence of the flying public.
“The idea of aviation safety had some sort of meaning a year ago (and) has now gained additional meaning in the context of the pandemic,” says Buttigeig. “This is one of the reasons why I think the actions of executives with regard to mask mandates are so important.”
“We should do everything we can to ensure passengers know they can have a safe experience,” added Buttigieg, noting that the federal government’s mission to protect travelers “is taking on new meaning in the COVID era Has.”
In addition to signing the mask-wearing mandate, the Biden administration requires international travelers coming to the United States to demonstrate that they have tested negative for COVID-19 before they can board their flight. You will also be asked to follow the self-quarantine guidelines upon arrival.
The airlines are backing the measures in hopes that people will feel safe enough to book a flight again and hopefully spark a rebound in a business decimated by the pandemic.