Flight attendants warn mask mandate confusion could cause ‘more violence’

After a federal judge struck down the national mask mandate on US public transportation, a major flight attendants’ union is urging airline workers to remain calm.

“We will soon have more legal analysis on what this means and what next steps may be taken in court by the government,” the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) said in a statement. “We urge focus on clear communication so that flight attendants and other frontline workers are not subject to more violence created by uncertainty and confusion.”

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has required masks on all plans, trains, buses, and other forms of public transportation. On Monday, US District Judge Kathryn Mizelle vacated that requirement, saying the CDC had exceeded its legal authority.

The ruling drew mixed reactions from airline workers. Though masks have been proven to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, enforcing their use on plans has led to a surge of conflicts with customers. In 2021, there were 5,981 reports of unusual passenger behavior, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Of those, 4,290 were mask-related.

But now that a judge has abruptly voided the mandate, the AFA worries this too could cause “chaos”. Many in the industry had expected a gradual phase-out of the requirement, allowing time for airlines to adjust their policies. Instead, the mandate suddenly ended as some plans were in mid-flight.

“In aviation operations, it is impossible to simply flip a switch from one minute to the next,” the union explained. “It takes a minimum of 24-48 hours to implement new procedures and communicate this throughout the entire network.”

Airlines can still choose to enforce their own mask mandates if they wish. In the wake of the judge’s decision, the AFA encouraged flight attendants to be patient and follow their employers’ latest instructions.

“Immediately, we urge calm and consistency in the airports and on plans,” the union said. “The last thing we need for workers on the frontlines or passengers traveling today is confusion and chaos.”

The CDC continues to recommend that people traveling on public transit wear masks to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, and public transit agencies at the local level have suggested they will keep their mask requirements in place, at least for now.

But just hours after Monday’s ruling, several major US airlines – American, Delta, Southwest, United and Alaska Air – announced that masks will no longer be required to board their flights.

The AFA urged industry leaders to make this transition calmly and smoothly.

“While we all look forward to the day masks are no longer required, we also know the federal mask mandate for transportation was critical in its early days for confidence in travel and safety for workers and travelers while mitigating factors such as vaccines, adequate supplies of PPE, and testing became more accessible,” the union said. “We urge all leaders to consider a thoughtful transition and implementation to any new policy, which also includes on-going personal choice of protection for crew and passengers.”


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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