The CEOs of 10 major US airlines have written a letter to US President Joe Biden asking him to drop the federal transportation mask mandate, plus the requirement to test for US-bound international travel. Will this request have any impact on the administration’s stance?
Letter from airline CEOs to President Biden
Yesterday 10 airline CEOs sent a letter to President Biden, which was signed by the CEOs of Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines, among others.
The letter starts by talking about all the measures that airlines voluntarily took at the start of the pandemic to keep people safe, plus the importance of many of the restrictions that the government has imposed. The letter then goes on to talk about how we’ve entered a different stage of the pandemic, and that now is the time to lift restrictions:
However, much has changed since these measures were imposed and they no longer make sense in the current public health context. The persistent and steady decline of hospitalization and death rates are the most compelling indicators that our country is well protected against severe disease from COVID-19.
Given that we have entered a different phase of dealing with this virus, we strongly support your view that “COVID-19 need no longer control our lives.” Now is the time for the Administration to sunset federal transportation travel restrictions – including the international predeparture testing requirement and the federal mask mandate – that are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment.
The letter goes on to state the following:
The high level of immunity in the U.S., availability of high-quality masks for those who wish to use them, hospital-grade cabin air, widespread vaccine availability and newly available therapeutics provide a strong foundation for the Administration to lift the mask mandate and predeparture testing requirements. We urge you to do so now.
We are requesting this action not only for the benefit the of the traveling public, but also for the thousands of airline employees charged with enforcing a patchwork of now-outdated regulations implemented in response to COVID-19.
Perhaps more noteworthy from a political standpoint is that we’re even starting to see flight attendant unions come out against the mask mandate, when previously they asked President Biden to keep it in place. The Senate also recently voted to overturn the federal transportation mask mandate, but that has limited practical implications.
Will President Biden listen?
As it stands, the federal transportation mask mandate applies through April 18, 2022, after a recent one month extension. Meanwhile the requirement to be tested within 24 hours of travel to the United States doesn’t have an end date.
My personal take on these requirements is as follows:
- While I absolutely think masks work, I think we’re at the point where people have access to vaccines and high quality masks so that they can make their own choices (and I say this as someone who will likely still choose to wear masks in certain situations); while masks are largely about protecting others, a KN95 provides a high level of protection to the person wearing it as well
- The testing requirement is a complete money grab and borderline scam, not because of anything the US government is doing, but because the companies providing testing in some destinations are quite shady; also, in general there hasn’t been evidence that testing for travel works to stop transmission if a variant is already in a country
Up until now I’ve thought that the mask mandate wouldn’t be extended beyond April 18, and that we see the testing requirement eliminated not too long after that, before the summer travel rush. I still feel confident about that.
I guess the question is if there’s any chance that we could see the mask mandate lifted earlier than April 18? Politically speaking, this would be a good time to do so, with hospitalizations and cases way down, and another variant on the horizon. The optics of Biden lifting the mask mandate if cases start to go up again in a few weeks wouldn’t be great. Meanwhile many people wouldn’t be happy if the mandate were extended even further.
I don’t think it’s out of the question that Biden just lifts the mask mandate earlier than the April 18 date, but I also don’t think it’s likely.
The CEOs of major airlines in the United States have written to President Biden, asking him to lift the current federal transportation mask mandate, plus the requirement to get tested when traveling to the United States. The former is currently in place through April 18, while the latter has no end date. They reason that we’ve entered a different stage of the pandemic, and it’s time to change policies accordingly.
The concept of lifting the transportation mask mandate is getting much more widespread support, though only time will tell if this causes the administration to change its stance.
When do you think the current mask mandate and testing requirement for air travel will be lifted?