Noting that circumstances have changed and that U.S. citizens are now better protected against severe illness that can stem from COVID-19, the board of directors for the advocacy group Airlines for America sent a letter to President Biden asking his administration to lift COVID-19 travel restrictions, including the federal mask requirement.
“At the outset, we voluntarily implemented policies and procedures — mandating face coverings; requiring passenger health acknowledgements and contact tracing information; and enhancing cleaning protocols — to form a multi-layered approach to mitigate risk and prioritize the well-being of passengers and employees,” the group, which includes executives from 10 air carriers, wrote in the letter. “However, much has changed since these measures were imposed and they no longer make sense in the current public health context.”
The group’s letter went on. “Now is the time for the administration to sunset federal transportation travel restrictions — including the international pre-departure testing requirement and the federal mask mandate — that are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment,” stated the letter.
The letter was signed by executives at Alaska Air, American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Airlines, FedEx Express, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and UPS Airlines.
The Case Against Masks
At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation, the Transportation Security Administration has extended its mandate requiring face masks on public transportation and transportation hubs for 1 month, extending through April 18th.
At the same time, the group wrote in their letter that “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.”
The group went on in the letter to point out that masks are required in transportation settings but not in other settings, particularly since the CDC continues to ease its mask guidance for much of the U.S.
“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 letter noted.
The Case Against Pre-Departure Screening
The group’s letter also notes that — in the writers’ opinion — the federal mandate which requires travelers to the U.S. to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flight has “outlived its utility.”
The requirement was put in effect in early December as part of the U.S. government’s effort to slow the introduction of the Omicron COVID-19 variant into the country.
The letter’s writers note that they supported the pre-departure testing for travelers to the U.S.
However, in the letter they go on to point out that other countries and areas — such as the European Union, United Kingdom, and Canada — have now dropped their requirements for pre-departure testing. If the U.S. continues with this policy, it will put the U.S. travel and tourism industry at a significant disadvantage because it places additional costs and burdens on those travelers, the writers believe.
A Final Word
The writers also explain that having to enforce policies — and the mask mandate, in particular — has taken a toll on front-line employees.
“It is critical to recognize that the burden of enforcing both the mask and pre-departure testing requirements has fallen on our employees for 2 years now,” the writers continue. “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.”
Obviously, it remains to be seen what effect, if any, the letter has on U.S. travel restrictions and requirements.
As those restrictions continue to change in the U.S., as well as around the world, be sure to read all of our Travel News content to stay up to date, including: