Covid-19 and Vaccine News: Live Updates – The New York Times

Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

With federal in-flight and airport mask mandates scheduled to expire next month, a flight attendants’ union is pushing the Biden administration to extend the mask requirement until more people are vaccinated against the coronavirus.

In a statement, the Association of Flight Attendants-C.W.A. said that allowing the mask requirement to lapse on March 18 would endanger medically vulnerable travelers as well as passengers under 5, who are not yet eligible for a vaccine in the United States.

“The layered approach to safety and security includes masks,” the union,which represents 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Biden administration imposed the mask rule for flights a year ago, during a brutal rise in coronavirus cases across the country before vaccines were widely available. People who did not comply were subject to fines. Officials extended the mandate twice as deadly new waves of infection washed over the nation.

As the most recent wave, driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant, has dwindled in recent weeks, states and local authorities across the United States have been relaxing mask requirements, and so have some major employers. But many forms of public transportation, including air travel, are regulated by the federal Transportation Security Administration, whose mask requirements for passengers and crew has not been lifted.

Patricia Mancha, a spokeswoman for the T.S.A., said on Tuesday night that the requirement was still on track to expire on March 18. “If there is a change to halt or extend the mask requirement, we will make an announcement,” she said in an email. “As of now, nothing new to share.”

Many flight crews are anxious about the prospect.

Disagreements over masks and the refusal of some passengers to wear them often led to shouting matches, fights and other problems with unruly passengers during the pandemic. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 15, the Federal Aviation Administration received nearly 400 reports of unruly passengers, including 255 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal mask mandate.

Last month, a man on a Delta Air Lines flight from Dublin to New York who refused to wear a mask pulled down his pants and exposed his buttocks, and an American Airlines flight to London from Miami turned around about an hour into its journey because of a passenger who refused to wear a mask.

Cases like those are why airline executives and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants have been urging the federal authorities to create a federal no-fly list for unruly passengers.

Many flight attendants support extending the mask requirement as well. “It’s also critical that we maintain passenger confidence in the safety of air travel,” the union said in its statement.

The federal mask mandate for air travel has faced court challenges — the Republican attorney general of Texas filed such a suit last week — but so far, the courts have sustained it.

Some airline executives have questioned the efficacy of masks on planes. At a Senate hearing in December, Gary Kelly, the chief executive of Southwest Airlines, said, “The case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment.”

But Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, urged travelers to wear face masks at airports and during flights. “Even though you have a good filtration system, I still believe that masks are a prudent thing to do, and we should be doing it,” he said a few days after the hearing.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *