Alongside COVID cases falling dramatically in the US, health officials and businesses have lifted a number of pandemic restrictions, from vaccine requirements to mask mandates. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eased its guidance earlier this month, removing indoor mask recommendations for a majority of communities. But you currently still have to wear one when you’re traveling by air: All US airlines continue to require that masks be worn on flights. So when is American Airlines updating its mask policy? Read on to find out more about the possibility of the mask mandate being lifted.
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American Airlines CEO Doug Parker just confirmed during a company meeting that American Airlines has plans to remove its face mask policy once the federal mask mandate is lifted, View From the Wing reported. According to Parker, the carrier’s requirement is only in place now because of the federal order—even though American introduced its own face mask policy in 2020 before the nationwide mandate was put into place.
“This isn’t a company policy, we’re following a company mandate,” Parker said. And as soon as the federal mask mandate expires, “we won’t have masks required at American for our customers or our flight attendants or our employees,” he added.
The federal mask mandate is set to be lifted on April 18, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). But that date was only set earlier this month on March 10, when the TSA decided to extend the mask requirement to April. It’s hardly the first time the federal government has pushed back the order.
According to Reuters, the current transportation mask mandate has been extended at least three times since President Joe Biden took office in Jan. 2021. And American Airlines will not be lifting its requirement until the federal order is removed—even if it’s pushed back again. “I’m looking forward to the day it’s not required anymore too. I hope that’ll be April 18, we’ll see,” Parker confirmed. “But if it is April 18, then of course there’s no requirement.”
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Almost all travel experts agree that air travel is a relatively safe form of transportation during the COVID pandemic, because there are advanced filtration systems on planes that refresh airflow every two to three minutes, according to The New York Times† Some health experts maintain that most examples of virus spread on planes occurred before mask mandates were put into place, emphasizing how important these requirements have been.
“It may be argued that the most effective mitigation measure to date has been mandatory masking in-flight,” Aisha KhatibMD, a doctor and the chair of a group with the International Society of Travel Medicine, told The New York Times† And David FreedmanMD, an infectious disease expert the president-elect of the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, told the newspaper that even when carriers remove their policies, “I’m still going to wear my N95 the whole flight.”
Parker, who is set to retire on March 31 before the potential removal of American’s mask mandate, said passengers and employees for the airline who still want to mask up will likely be able to do so even when the requirement is gone. According to Parker, that will be a decision made by Robert Isomwho will take over as American Airlines CEO after he departs.
“I’m now speaking out of school because I’m not going to be here to make this decision, but I’m certain that Robert and team will also decide that if you want to wear a mask you can. It’s a new world now,” Parker said. “Here’s what I believe: The mandate will go away, if you want to keep wearing a mask because personal preference, fine. If you want to wear gloves, fine. I think you’ll see that throughout the country. Some people will still want to wear them. And if they want to fantastic. But if you don’t, you don’t have to.”
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