Late on Friday night, the Centers for Disease Control issued its new rule for wearing masks on airlines. Let’s breakdown the new rule.
New Federal Mask Mandate On Airplanes
The new CDC order, also issued under the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services, can be viewed here and in-full below.
The explicit purpose of the new rule is to protect lives and “aid” in the re-opening of the economy.
Requiring masks on our transportation systems will protect Americans and provide confidence that we can once again travel safely even during this pandemic. Therefore, requiring masks will help us control this pandemic and aid in re-opening America’s economy.
The new rule covers travel on all conveyances and at transit hubs, meaning it applies to buses, subways, Ubers, as well as at airports and onboard airplanes.
A person must wear a mask while boarding, disembarking, and traveling on any conveyance into or within the United States. A person must also wear a mask at any transportation hub that provides transportation within the United States.
Why this rule and why now? Based upon the scientific consensus that masks provide greater protection than no masks at all.
Masks help prevent dispersal of an infected person’s respiratory droplets that carry the virus. That precaution helps prevent droplets from landing in the eye, mouth, or nose or possibly being inhaled into the lungs of an uninfected person, or from landing on a surface or object that an uninfected person may then touch and then touch his or her own or another’s eyes, nose, or mouth. Masks also provide some protection to the wearer by helping reduce inhalation of respiratory droplets.
The new mandate exempts the following categories of persons:
- A child under the age of 2 years
- A person with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, because of the disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. 1201 et seq.)
- A person for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty as determined by the relevant workplace safety guidelines or federal regulations.
Note that the new rule prohibits Delta Air Lines’ policy of not requiring masks for young children. The new rule also will require all airlines to make exceptions for those with disabilities, something only Delta currently does.
Concerning the scope of disability, a footnote promises clarification is forthcoming:
This is a narrow exception that includes a person with a disability who cannot wear a mask for reasons related to the disability. CDC will issue additional guidance regarding persons who cannot wear a mask under this exemption.
Nevertheless, expect this will lead to less masks, not more masks onboard.
Airlines Can Set Stricter Rules
Under the new order, airline can set stricter requirements, such as requiring negative COVID-19 tests in order to travel.
Consistent with other federal, state, or local legal requirements, this Order does not preclude operators of conveyances or transportation hubs from imposing additional requirements, or conditions for carriage, that provide greater public health protection and are more restrictive than the requirements in this Order (e.g., requiring a negative result from a SARS-CoV-2 viral test or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 or imposing requirements for social distancing or other recommended protective measures).
However, airlines cannot require those with a disability to wear a mask.
Who Enforces The New Rule?
While airlines are instructed to use their “best efforts” at enforcement and “at the earliest opportunity, disembarking any person who refuses to comply,” enforcement of the new rule will fall upon the TSA.
This Order shall be enforced by the Transportation Security Administration.
The order reserves the right to use criminal penalties to enforce the new mandate:
While this Order may be enforced and CDC reserves the right to enforce through criminal penalties, CDC does not intend to rely primarily on these criminal penalties but instead strongly encourages and anticipates widespread voluntary compliance as well as support from other federal agencies in implementing additional civil measures en- forcing the provisions of this Order.
When Does The New Rule Go Into Effect?
The new rule goes into effect on late Monday night, February 1st, at 11:59PM ET.
As promised, the U.S. federal government has introduced a new mask rule for transportation, including airline travel. Check back on Live and Let’s Fly later today for analysis on this new rule.