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Airline CEOs ask Biden to drop mask mandates for travel

"It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks."

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

At a time when states across the country have dropped their mask mandates, CEOs from a number of airlines sent a letter to President Biden on Wednesday urging him to end the federal mask mandate on public transportation, which was recently extended into next month.

The CEOs argue that the mask requirements are no longer needed given the current status of the virus, and asked as well for predeparture test requirements that are currently mandated to fly into the US to be dropped.

"We are encouraged by the current data and the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions from coast to coast, which indicate it is past time to eliminate COVID-era transportation policies," the letter states, noting that they have appreciated Biden’s leadership throughout the recent year of the pandemic.

The CEOs said that "our industry has leaned into science at every turn," noting that they voluntarily implemented policies like mask mandates, "To form a multi-layered approach to mitigate risk and prioritize the wellbeing of passengers and employees."

"However, much has changed since these measures were imposed and they no longer make sense in the current public health context," the letter states, noting that lowering hospitalizations and death rates "are the most compelling indicators that our country is well protected against 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 on the current epidemiological environment," the letter continues.

In regards to the mask mandate, the letter states: "It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do."

The CEOS said, "it is critical to recognize that the burden of enforcing both the mask and predeparture testing requirements has fallen on our employees for two years now. This is not a function they are trained to perform and subjects them to daily challenges by frustrated customers. This in turn takes a toll on their own well-being."

They note that the combination of high-quality masks being available for those that want them, "hospital-grade cabin air," widespread vaccine availability, and new therapeutics to treat the virus "provide a strong foundation for the Administration to lift the mask mandate and predeparture testing requirements."

"We urge you to do so now," the letter adds.

Signing on to the letter are CEOs from Alaska Air Group, Atlas Air Worldwide, FedEx Express, JetBlue Airways, United America Holdings, Airlines for America, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and UPS Airlines.

Earlier this month, the Transportation Security Administration announced that it would be extending its mask mandate for public transportation through April 18.

"At CDC’s recommendation, TSA will extend the security directive for mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs for one month, through April 18th," a statement from the TSA read.

"During that time, CDC will work with government agencies to help inform a revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor. This revised framework will be based on the COVID-19 community levels, risk of new variants, national data, and the latest science. We will communicate any updates publicly if and/or when they change."

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