The Transportation Security Administration’s mandate that requires people to wear masks in airports and while flying has been extended one month, to April 18, the agency announced March 10. It was originally set to expire March 18. (Mask requirements on buses and other public transportation are also extended.)
With the mandate set to expire next month, there’s still concern around the safety of immunocompromised passengers, people with underlying health conditions, and those who aren’t eligible for the vaccine — for instance, children age 5 and younger.
The mandate currently in place requires all passengers to wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth, with the exception of when they’re eating or drinking. This is because traveling on public transportation increases a person’s risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 since people are in close contact with one another.
We’ll explain what’s happening with the expiration of the mask mandate next month. For more information, here’s the latest on. We’ll update this story as new information develops.
Could the mask mandate be extended yet again?
The mandate has been extended three times now and could be yet again, depending on any new variants that could develop.
The mask requirements will remain in place and will continue to be evaluated “based on the state of the virus,” White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said during a press briefing.
Rochelle Walensky, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they’d revisit the masking mandate, and on March 10 recommended keeping it in place for another month.
Do flight attendants want to keep the mandate?
Flight attendants as a group haven’t taken a stance on whether or not to keep the mask mandate in place, the Association of Flight Attendants said. They are, however, in charge of enforcing the mandate, which also means dealing with passengers refusing to comply.
As of March 7, the Federal Aviation Administration reported 535 out of 814 unruly passengers have been related to face masks this year. Given those numbers, an expired mandate could significantly decrease the number of violent altercations in flight.
The government is considering a unified no-fly list for flyers refusing to comply with the mask requirements, Bloomberg reported, but no official decision has been made.
Can individual airlines continue requiring masks onboard after the mandate ends?
The airlines haven’t announced any plans for after the mask mandate is lifted, and it’s unclear whether individual airlines can continue requiring masks for flyers. Generally, airlines follow protocols put in place by the TSA, so if the mandate isn’t extended, the airlines are likely to return to the “no mask necessary” policy.
“We remain in communication with the Administration as they reassess the existing mask requirements and work to identify a path forward from COVID-era policies,” an AFA representative told CNET. “We are encouraged by the lifting of mask requirements in all 50 states and other COVID-related restrictions across the country.”
A Southwest Airlines representative told CNET the company doesn’t have anything to offer on this topic at this time. “Like the rest of our industry, Southwest is subject to federal mask mandates as implemented via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s original order.”
Does this apply to international travel from the US?
At this time, it’s unclear whether the mandate ending next month will apply to those traveling from the US to another country with mask requirements. It’s possible other countries that still have mask mandates could require flyers to mask up before exiting the plane and entering the airport.
How you can stay protected if the mandate is lifted
If you’re concerned about COVID-19 while traveling, there are a few measures you can take to help keep yourself protected.
- Wear a face mask while in flight.
- Choose a window seat, if possible — this exposes you to fewer people than an aisle seat.
- Stay up to date on your vaccines.
- Wipe down your seat and tray with a disinfectant cloth.
- Wash or sanitize your hands before eating.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.