It looks like the Biden Administration is going to extend the mask requirement until January 18, 2022.
Back in April when the mask requirement was extended to September 13, 2021, a lot of us thought there may be an end to masks on planes by mid September but with the outbreak of the Delta variant this summer I think a lot of us saw the writing on the wall.
Unfortunately, this probably means a lot more unruly passengers as mask usage seems to be a major correlative factor for that type of behavior. In fact, according to the FAA, out of 3,889 unruly passenger reports this year about 74% of them related to violations of airline mask policies.
There has been talk about mandating vaccines for air travel and indeed that is already going to happen in Canada. Indeed, most Americans support mandating vaccine passports for domestic air travel and some major US airlines (United Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines) now require their employees to be vaccinated.
However, based on comments made from airline executives and top government officials it does not seem like vaccines will be mandatory for domestic air travel in the US. It could happen but it doesn’t seem very likely at this point.
TSA is extending the facemask requirement for everyone across all transportation networks throughout the United States, including at airports, onboard commercial aircraft, on over-the-road buses, and on commuter bus and rail systems through September 13.
“The federal mask requirement throughout the transportation system seeks to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation,” said Darby LaJoye, the Senior Official Performing the Duties of the TSA Administrator.
“Right now, about half of all adults have at least one vaccination shot and masks remain an important tool in defeating this pandemic. We will continue to work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to evaluate the need for these directives and recognize the significant level of compliance thus far.”
TSA notes that “[t]he extension of the face mask requirement is consistent with this most recent CDC guidance.”
This is true but many people including myself are starting to question the guidance from the CDC.
First, there is the long list of reversals that the CDC has made on issues such as mask wearing that make many people skeptical about CDC recommendations in general.
But that aside, early reports are showing that vaccinations are effective not just at preventing infection but also transmission.
In other words, vaccinated individuals likely have a very low risk of spreading the coronavirus to anyone.
This likely means that others would only benefit a very small (perhaps negligible) amount from a vaccinated person wearing a mask. Basically, I suspect that if you do get vaccinated, wearing a mask is simply not needed or at least not worth the burden.
And if you still do need the mask even after getting vaccinated then I guess masks are now a permanent fixture?
Now I am not a medical professional so don’t take any of this advice too seriously but I think a lot of people share this same viewpoint that the CDC cost/benefit analysis is out of whack post-vaccinations.
Vaccines have now been available to virtually everyone in the country for a couple of weeks and so within another couple of weeks virtually everybody will have had a chance to get fully vaccinated.
To me, logic would dictate that mask wearing (for vaccinated adults) would not be needed much sooner than September. By the end of May, full immunity will have kicked in for just about everybody who wanted the vaccine and it would seem that masks for vaccinated people don’t make sense beyond that date.
But I understand that governments like to play things conservatively so it really is no surprise that the extension has been made until September.
Perhaps they feel that if they remove the mask mandate now then a lot of the non-vaccinated individuals will stop wearing them and contribute to the spread of the virus among the non-vaccinated which includes children. New strains of coronavirus might be spreading to more children so there could be legitimate concern there.
At some point we just have to accept that there’s going to be a risk to people who are not vaccinated and just get on with life, though. As of two weeks ago, half the country’s adults had at least one vaccine shot so I think that day should be here pretty soon.
I will give TSA credit for at least establishing a specific date as that shows that they are interested in this all coming to an end at some point.
Still, it’s going to be weird when there is a mask requirement in the middle to late summer when the virus is likely posing virtually no threat in the US.
Worth noting: the existing civil penalty fine structure will also remain in place which starts at $250 and rises to $1,500 for repeat offenders who violate this face mask requirement.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.