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US airlines are seeking an end to the Covid mask mandate despite passenger caution

Airline executives and politicians are pressuring the US to phase out Covid-19 mask rules as scheduled next week, even as a majority of the public wants them to remain.

Enforced wearing of masks has caused friction in airplane cabins. Last year it was 72 percent a record 5,981 reports of unruly passengers They were associated with masks, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which proposed fines totaling $5 million for such behavior.

A diverse group of advocates want mask requirements to go away, as in other indoor settings. Next Monday, the federal government’s order for travelers in public transport should expire, unless the officials grant a further extension.

Domestic airlines have led the call to end the mandate, with chief executives from seven airlines, including American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, telling President Joe Biden in a letter last month that it “no longer aligns with the realities of today.” epidemiological environment.”

“It doesn’t make sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes but are allowed to go without masks in crowded restaurants, schools and sporting events,” especially considering the quality of air filtration systems on board, the executives wrote.

Chart showing new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the United States

Executives stressed that airline employees shoulder the “burden” of enforcing the mask mandate and international pre-departure testing – another requirement they want to eliminate – as conflicts with recalcitrant passengers linger.

At Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, the union representing flight attendants also supports lifting the mask rule, noting it’s “one of the toughest jobs we’ve ever faced.” However, the largest flight attendant union in the US, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, has decided not to take a stand.

However, recent opinion polls have shown that many Americans want to keep flight mask regulations in place. The Harris poll found that 60 percent of those polled in early April supported keeping the mandate.

But public support for the mask rule is falling: In another poll, Morning Consult also found 60 percent support it, but that was 11 points down from January.

There are also disagreements haunting people’s political affiliations, one of the hallmarks of the US response to the coronavirus crisis since the pandemic began over two years ago. According to the Harris Poll, 70 percent of Democrats support requiring masks on airplanes, while only 50 percent of Republicans do.

Twenty-one U.S. states that have Republican attorneys general last month sued the federal government to overturn the mandate, arguing it exceeded its powers. A group of 17 Republican congressmen filed a separate, similar lawsuit.

Face covering fatigue appears to be taking hold in Democrat-run major cities, too: Mask compliance on the New York City subway has fallen to a new low of 83 percent, with just 70 percent correctly wearing a mask, according to the New York City Transportation Authority.

The MTA and Chicago Transit Authority, which operate the country’s two largest mass transit systems, have said they have no plans to implement their own mask rule if the federal mandate is lifted. The American Public Transportation Association, a lobby group, has asked the White House to let the mandate expire.

Public health experts have said the Biden administration must weigh the potential impact of another wave, even as cases, hospitalizations and deaths have all fallen sharply since the Covid-19 peak last winter. In some parts of the country the BA.2 coronavirus subvariant leads to an increase in new cases.

“It’s a very fluid situation. On the one hand, everyone is willing to go beyond that. . . the mask requirement. And on the other hand, we’re finding that with the BA.2 variant, that big lift is happening,” said Leonard Marcus, co-director of the Aviation Public Health Initiative at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. He will continue to wear a mask on airplanes without a mandate wear.

“The problem with community spread” is that “airlines are moving people from one community to the next,” he said, and once the mask mandate ends, it will be very difficult to reintroduce it.

Bar chart of total available seats (millions) for the five largest airlines, showing US airline seats have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels

While the level of risk is likely low enough to justify lifting the policy, “overall trends are not declining and I would like to see them turn down rather than flattening out and up in some places” before it is ended said David Dowdy. Epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The US Transportation Security Administration reiterated that the mask mandate will remain in effect through next Monday, and “if there is a change one way or another, we will make an announcement.” Ashish Jha, the new White House Covid-19 chief adviser, told NBC TV Today’s show On Monday, the extension of the mandate was “absolutely on the table,” adding that the decision rested with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ending the mask requirement will not have a “meaningful impact on demand” for air travel, said Savanthi Syth, an analyst at Raymond James. “The bigger win for travel demand will be if they get rid of testing,” as “the risk of getting stuck somewhere” is a hurdle.

https://www.ft.com/content/f66513ae-182e-4e3d-bd2b-b71447de2931 US airlines are seeking an end to the Covid mask mandate despite passenger caution

Adam Bradshaw

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