Just weeks shy of its original plan to remove the mask requirement on airlines, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has extended the mandate until January 18, 2022.
In announcing the change, the TSA said the mask rule will continue to apply to employees on planes and public transportation -- including airplanes, trains, and buses -- as well.
Mask controversy continues
Masks have become a lightning rod for bad behavior on airplanes. They’re a point of contention between passengers who don't want to wear them and flight attendants who are asked to enforce the mandate. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says airlines have reported close to 3,000 incidents involving passengers who refused to mask up.
In an email to ConsumerAffairs, U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes applauded the TSA’s extension. “Extending the federal mask mandate for travel makes sense for the current health environment and has the travel industry’s full support,” she said.
“The universal wearing of masks in airports and on airplanes, trains and other forms of public transportation is both an effective safeguard against spreading the virus and boosts public confidence in traveling—both of which are paramount for a sustained economic recovery.”
Blame the Delta variant
The TSA’s decision is most likely a response to the rising number of new COVID-19 cases that have been attributed to the Delta variant.
While the TSA was updating its mask mandate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was also modifying its own policies. In an update on its website, the agency said all consumers over the age of two who are not fully vaccinated should wear a mask. It also included vaccinated consumers who have weakened immune systems in that request.
“To maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, fully vaccinated people should wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission,” the agency said.