Citing concern over Covid-19 numbers increasing, the Biden administration announced Wednesday an extension of the nationwide mask requirement for airplanes and public transit for 15 days as it monitors the uptick in cases.
The order was set to expire on April 18th. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was extending the order to May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant that is now responsible for the vast majority of cases in the U.S.
“In order to assess the potential impact the rise of cases has on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and health care system capacity, the CDC order will remain in place at this time,” the agency said in a statement.
Critics of the mandate believe that as restrictions have lifted and as states have rolled back rules requiring masks in restaurants, stores and other indoor settings such as concert venues, combined with the falling COVID-19 cases have fallen believe the next step is the transportation mask requirement.
“It is very difficult to understand why masks are still required on airplanes, but not needed in crowded bars and restaurants; in packed sports arenas; in schools full of children; or at large indoor political gatherings,” Nicholas Calio, the CEO of industry trade group Airlines for America, said Wednesday in a letter to the heads of the CDC and the Health and Human Services Department. “Simply put, an extension of the mask mandate does not make sense.”
It has been reported that airlines have repeatedly asked the administration to drop that requirement as well as other COVID restrictions such as predeparture testing for all international arrivals, including citizens.
The Association of Flight Attendants as a group haven’t taken a formal stance on whether or not to keep the mask mandate in place. However, a group of nine flight attendants from Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest and United filed a lawsuit in March, alleging that the mask mandate is unconstitutional.
At this point in the mandate, twenty-one states have initiated a lawsuit to end the mask mandate on public transit. The states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.
While the US moves closer to removing the mask mandates for air travel, many international airlines have recently removed their mask mandate on flights:
British Airways has lifted their mask requirements on some of their flights.
Norwegian Air – On April 4th removed their mask requirements for all travelers on their flights.
Virgin Atlantic – March 16th made masks optional for travelers flying to Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas and Jamaica.
SAS, the Swedish airline stopped their mask requirement on flights within Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Passengers over the age of 6 years traveling to or from other countries are still required to wear a mask.
Icelandair instituted a masks optional policy for all flights except those traveling to and from Canada, the US and Germany.