Federal officials have officially extended the requirement of mask mandates for air travelers and employees on all flights and public transportation.
In an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19, the Transportation Security Administration’s current order that is scheduled to expire September 13 announced Tuesday the order will be extended until January 18.
The TSA briefed airline industry representatives on its plan Tuesday and planned to discuss it with airline unions on Wednesday.
The mandatory mask requirement has been controversial and has led to many encounters between passengers who don’t want to wear a mask and flight attendants tasked to enforce the rule. As of Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration airlines have reported 3,889 incidents involving unruly passengers this year. Of those incidences 2,867, or 74% involved refusing to wear a mask.
“We have a responsibility in aviation to keep everyone safe and do our part to end the pandemic, rather than aid the continuation of it,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. “We all look forward to the day masks are no longer required, but we’re not there yet.”
The extension of the mask requirement is not surprising after a recent surge in COVID-19 cases linked to the delta variant of the virus. The seven-day average of new reported cases has topped 140,000, an increase of 64% from two weeks ago, which is the highest level in more than six months.
Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines have recently reported that the increase in coronavirus infections has caused a decrease in bookings beyond the usual slowdown that occurs near the end of each summer.