Airlines for America, a group that represents major U.S. airline companies like Delta, United, and American, has sent a letter to president-elect Biden to mandate facemasks on flights for passengers over 2 years of age “without exception.”
The letter obtained by Reuters asked Biden to “allow air carriers to maintain their existing policies and practices which are aimed at de-escalating conflict in-flight and allowing the aircraft to continue while providing a consequential enforcement backstop on the ground.”
The group said that several thousand passengers have been barred for not following proper safety protocols. It hoped that Biden will extend the mask requirements to airports as well. The number of people who have been refusing to wear masks on flights has been rising.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has announced that it will no longer be seeking warnings or civil penalties for such passengers. Instead, the passengers will be subjected to fines of up to $35,000 and even imprisonment. The rule will remain effective until March 30, 2021.
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA has asked to impose a face mask rule that would ensure that U.S. aviation follows a single rule throughout the country. However, President Trump has consistently rejected the proposal to make masks mandatory on trains, airlines, and public transportation.
Washington has also dismissed the efforts of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to make face masks mandatory. In October, Biden said that he would mandate masks for interstate transportation. The AFL-CIO labor federation, which represents airline workers, had approached the U.S. Department of Transportation in October to require passengers to wear masks. However, the department had dismissed the request, stating that “there should be no more regulations than necessary.”
According to Allied Pilots Association union spokesman Dennis Tajer, a federal mandate to wear masks will help enforce strict compliance from passengers.
“I can’t ask you to leave the airplane if you are not compliant, unlike other public venues… We’ve called for it for many, many months. The airlines have stepped up and done everything they can… Most everyone is very compliant, and some people forget with the mask dropping below their nose while they are talking. But there is a big difference between a policy and a federal mandate. A company policy doesn’t carry as much weight. When you use the words ‘federal mandate’ it gets attention,” he told Cirium.
Pandemic effect on airlines
According to estimates by FactSet, U.S. carriers saw a net loss of $35 billion in 2020. Most carriers will only start seeing relief from the second half of this year. Airlines for America estimated that the total debt of American carriers rose from $67 billion last year to over $172 billion.
Stock prices of major airline companies have also dropped significantly. American Airlines lost 45 percent of its share value last year, United Airlines’ value fell by 51 percent, and Delta Airlines’ stock decreased by 31 percent. This happened at a time when the S&P 500 index surged by 16 percent.
However, many airlines have reported that their customer satisfaction scores rose last year. This might be due to fewer passengers in 2020. Since the number of passengers was lower, they inevitably get better attention from the airline service staff, leading to improved customer satisfaction.