If you’ve been to a store, event, or concert recently, you’ve likely noticed that COVID-19 mask rules have eased. In airports, it’s a different reality.
The TSA mask mandate—which makes the face coverings required on planes, in airports, and even on board trains—was extended this Thursday until April 18. During the time provided by the extension, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to work “ with government agencies to help inform a revised policy framework for when the mask rules can be lifted,” a White House official told NBC News.
Although the extension travelers know what to expect for the next month or so, there is still a debate in the airline industry over what to do about face coverings in the long term, especially among airline cabin crew. Despite being a group of frontline workers who had extremely high rates of COVID-19, especially amid the ultra-contagious Omicron variant, many flight attendants say they are ready for the mandatory requirement to be lifted—at least partially.
While the largest union for cabin crew, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, hasn’t officially said whether it passed the mandate later this mandate should be allowed to expire this spring, the group has made it their mission to remind travelers and their flight attendants that as long as the mandate is in place, “flight attendants are charged with managing it.” Overall, it’s that aspect that flight attendants are fed up with: reminding fliers to wear their masks.
Indeed, for months flight attendants have been on the receiving end of a recent surge of unruly passenger incidents that have turned violent. It’s a trend many attribute to the federal mask mandate and some travelers’ opposition to it. anxious, even with the lingering risk of potentially becoming ill, a growing number of flight attendants are tired of the rule. “Honestly, I would like it to go away on airplanes,” says Riley, a flight attendant for Alaska Airlines, who only wanted her first name to be used. “I think it is important to wear a mask when you are squeezed in a tube like a sardine for hours, but I hate being the mask police. People are so mean about it, and it becomes tiring and soul crushing.”
Another Alaska Airlines flight attendant, Tamford, says she thought only vaccinated passengers should be exempt from wearing a mask on board. But that could prove difficult to enforce, as air passengers aren’t currently required to carry or display a vaccination record for domestic travel. Further, such a rule would require flight crews to generally “card” passengers who weren’t wearing a mask and could potentially create even more work.
Other flight attendants agree that the requirements should now be left to passengers’ discretion, rather than a regulation the crew should be tasked with enforcing. “It’s time to end the mandatory element,” says Ken, an American Airlines flight attendant. “If you want to wear one, wear it.”