Airlines to Biden: We've had enough of mask mandates

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

More accurately, customers of ten airlines have grown fed up with mandated mask wearing for hours on end. Their CEOs have published an open letter to Joe Biden asking him to end the mandate for air travel as well as any “predeparture testing requirements.” These “no longer make sense in the current public health context.”


The letter comes after Biden pledged to veto any congressional action lifting the mandates:

In a letter to President Joe Biden, Airlines for America, a trade group, wrote: “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 and predeparture testing requirements. We urge you to do so now.

“We are requesting this action not only for the benefit of the traveling public, but also for the thousands of airline employees charged with enforcing a patchwork of now-outdated regulations implemented in response to COVID-19,” read Wednesday’s letter, which was signed by the heads of 10 airlines, including American, Delta and United.

The Transportation Security Administration announced last month that it was extending the mask mandate on public transportation until April 18.

Will that convince Biden to reverse course? Eight days ago, Biden insisted that he would issue the veto as ending the mandates was “premature.” The Senate vote on a bill to end the TSA mandate was bipartisan, if not terribly overwhelming:


The U.S. Senate voted 57 to 40 on Tuesday to overturn a 13-month-old public health order requiring masks on airplanes and other forms of public transportation, drawing a quick veto threat from President Joe Biden.

Last week, the White House said it would extend the current COVID-19 mask requirements at airports, train stations, ride share vehicles and other transit modes through April 18 but pledged a new review. The order was set to expire on Friday. …

The repeal vote fell shy of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a Biden veto. The White House said Tuesday “circumstances under which masks should be required in these settings should be guided by science, not politics.”

What science supports a mask mandate on airplanes, though? The science on masking efficacy has been dodgy at best, especially in terms of hours-long close proximity to others. If anything, the current status of the science — CDC data — shows that this would be the appropriate time to end the mandate:

The deaths are correlative counts, not causative, as the CDC still doesn’t distinguish between the two. New case counts are at or near pandemic lows. As Leana Wen argued this week, if we’re not unmasking now, then it’s not related to science but to a decision that we’ll never unmask.

Furthermore, travelers know full well that mask mandates are unnecessary. Some people might still choose to mask, especially those with particular vulnerabilities, but most probably would look at case counts and shrug — especially if they’ve been vaccinated and/or exposed before. Having flight attendants enforce a mandate that accomplishes nothing but hours of discomfort for no good purpose puts them in an unfair and potentially dangerous position, a point that the CEOs raise specifically in their letter to Biden.


So will Biden finally back down? Probably not, although you can bet that the airlines will start putting pressure on Congress to act anyway. It’s time for consumers to do the same. We have vaccines, widespread natural exposure, and lots of ways to treat COVID-19. The time for mandates has come to an end, except for those who fell in love with the power that created the mandates in the first place. And that’s a bigger problem than wearing masks.

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