The largest union of flight attendants expects the federal mask mandate to be extended, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.
The current mask requirement, initially imposed in February 2021, is set to expire March 18 after being extended three times. Another extension would occur despite a growing number of states and businesses having lifted restrictions.
"We have every expectation that the mask mandate will be extended for the near term," the AFA — Association of Flight Attendants-CWA — said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg. "The conditions in aviation are the same. Our youngest passengers do not yet have access to the vaccine."
The Transportation Security Administration’s last extension of the mandate, implemented to stem the spread of COVID-19, occurred in August 2021.
The mandate has been a lightning rod for politicians and passengers.
Federal Aviation Administration statistics showed that of 5,981 onboard disputes last year, 72% were related to masks.
So far this year, 397 of 607 (65%) unruly passenger incidents have been related to masks, the FAA reported.
The Washington Examiner reported that at least one flight reversed course due to passengers rejecting the staff's call for them to wear a mask. Other families have alleged they were removed from flights due to children not wearing masks.
California, New Jersey, Nevada, and Illinois have joined other states in ending such requirements. Walt Disney Co. also is ditching a mask mandates for fully vaccinated guests at its U.S. theme parks.
Bloomberg reported that it was unclear when an extension of the federal mask requirement will be announced, though previous announcements were made a few weeks ahead of the expiration date.
With the current deadline falling during spring break for many schools and universities, a change in policy could cause disruption during the expected busy travel period.
"It's also critical that we maintain passenger confidence in the safety of air travel," according to AFA, which represents about 50,000 flight attendants from 17 carriers.
Bloomberg said the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents about 22,000 American Airlines employees, said it doesn't oppose an extension of the mask mandate, but was "looking forward to the day that it is no longer needed."
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