Airline CEOs, travel groups urge White House to lift mask rules on flights

The CEOs of Delta, American and United Airlines, and others are urging the White House to end a federal mask mandate on airplanes, along with international pre-departure testing requirements.

The airline executives sent a letter to the president late Wednesday, saying the restrictions are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment.

This comes after the Biden administration decided this month to extend current mask requirements at airports, train stations, ride-sharing vehicles, and other transportation through April 18. The order was set to expire on March 18.

In the letter, the CEOs told the president, "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."

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Passengers who spoke with FOX 13 Thursday morning at Tampa International Airport said they feel it's time to ease mask requirements on planes and airports.

"I think it makes sense. I mean, it’s waived everywhere else," said one passenger. "At the airport, you’re kind of wearing a mask at the terminal and then you're sitting side-by-side on the plane. I see all the numbers coming down as it is, so why not lift (mask requirements) all the way around? What’s the difference between the airport and the schools?"

One day before the letter from the airline executives, the U.S. Travel Association made similar calls for the White House to ease the country’s remaining travel restrictions.

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In a letter on Tuesday, the group urged incoming White House COVID Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha to zero in on replacing COVID-related travel measures with endemic-focused policies.

This includes repealing the federal mask mandate by April 18, removing the pre-departure testing requirement for inbound vaccinated international travelers, and ending international COVID travel advisories.  

The mask requirements have led to widespread tensions on flights. The Federal Aviation Administration says that since January 2021, there have been a record 6,942 unruly passenger incidents reported, with seven out of ten incidents involving mask rules.

The White House has yet to respond to either group but said earlier this month that the CDC is working to develop a revised policy for masks on public transportation.