By Gabrielle Bienasz
The U.S. government’s mask mandate for airplanes and other methods of travel will likely be extended, the country’s largest union of flight attendants told Bloomberg on Tuesday.The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA represents flight attendants from companies including United Airlines and Delta Air Lines.
“We have every expectation that the mask mandate will be extended for the near term… The conditions in aviation are the same. Our youngest passengers do not yet have access to the vaccine,” the union told the outlet in an emailed statement.
The union said it also expects the masking mandate to be maintained internationally until at least June or July and longer if new variants prove dangerous.
The federal mandate is set to lapse on March 18, even as states across the country ditch mask mandates. It was first established in February 2021 and has been lengthened three times, though the federal government has yet to indicate any plans for extending the mandate.
Bloomberg noted that the previous extensions were each announced a few weeks before the mandates were set to expire.
Airplanes and airports have become hotbeds of conflict since the mandates began: 2021 was the most violent year on record on airplanes according to Federal Aviation Administration data analyzed by CNN. Seventy-two percent of the 5,981 reports were related to masks.
In mid-February, two American Airlines planes had to be rerouted because of disruptive passengers. In one, a flight attendant had to subdue a person trying to open the airplane door with a coffee pot. In a Delta flight in early February, two passengers were removed for being disruptive. Stories like these have likely prompted talk of establishing a nationwide no-fly list, though creating it would be a complex process, Insider reports.
Other unions were less definitive on the fate of mask mandates to Bloomberg. The Southwest Airlines Pilot Association, for one, didn’t respond to inquiry, and The Association of Professional Flight Attendants – representing about 22,000 employees of American Airlines – said it was fine with the extension but hoped times would come where the mask mandates were no longer needed.