Yesterday, new United States President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring the public to wear face masks on all federal property and during interstate travel on public transport. Therefore, as part of the “100 Day Masking Challenge,” passengers are now required by federal law to wear coverings while onboard an aircraft.

Urgent action

Biden previously expressed his strong support for wearing a mask to help tackle the pandemic. He said there would be a significant reduction in coronavirus cases if every person in the country wore a face covering. At the beginning of last month, he declared that he would ask everyone to wear a mask for 100 days on his first day as president.

Biden said the following, as reported by the BBC:

“The first day I’m inaugurated […] I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask. Just 100 days to mask, not forever. One hundred days. And I think we’ll see a significant reduction if we do that, if that occurs with vaccinations and masking to drive down the numbers considerably.” 

Subsequently, Biden stayed true to his word and took action on the day of his inauguration. The president said the following, as reported by the Wall Street Journal:

“I thought there’s no time to wait. Get to work immediately.”

An ongoing saga

Since the start of the pandemic, the wearing of face masks on an aircraft has sparked debate across the aviation industry. All major US airlines require those onboard to wear coverings. However, there have been several passengers banned due to refusal to wear one. Conflicts over the topic have resulted in threats and even attacks on flight attendants.

By the first week of September, airlines had already banned over 700 passengers from their respective services due to mask refusals. Just earlier this month, 14 passengers were banned by Alaska Airlines after unruly behavior surrounding the wearing of face coverings on the aircraft.

Following this, airline labor unions expressed safety concerns. Yesterday, the Air Line Pilots’ Association, International (ALPA) shared its support for Biden’s order. The group said that voluntary implementation leaves too much risk of virus exposure for those on the frontline.

A joint effort

Nonetheless, even before this order, certain officials have been keen to clamp down on issues surrounding masks. Last week, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson approved an order to fine unruly passengers or those who assault, threaten or intimidate crew members. These fines can reach up to $35,000, and the ruling is effective until March 30th. Moreover, offenders could be imprisoned for up to 20 years.

Altogether, authorities and airlines are on the same page regarding the mandatory wearing of face masks. The government, carriers, and passengers will be keeping a close eye on conditions over the next few months following the rollout of the vaccine. Perhaps requirements could change after a reduction in cases throughout the year.

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