Tension and violence onboard airplanes is soaring, but the CDC still wants flyers to wear masks because the unvaccinated are ‘extremely vulnerable’

Delta Air Lines New JFK Airport Experience
Travelers have been required to wear masks on airplanes for more than one year.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is against lifting the mask mandate on airplanes.
  • The Transportation Security Administration’s current mask mandate expires on September 13 but may be extended.
  • Thousands of travelers have been banned from airlines for not wearing masks.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Wearing masks onboard airplanes is here to stay.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has come out against lifting the federal mask mandate that requires travelers to don face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus when using transportation modes including air, rail, and bus.

“The truth is that the unvaccinated portion that’s out there is extremely vulnerable,” Marty Cetron, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s division of global migration and quarantine, told Reuters on Thursday.

President Joe Biden first directed agencies to create mask mandates for transportation in January and CDC soon followed up with an order that codified mask mandates on commercial and public transportation into federal law.

The Transportation Security Administration, tasked with protecting the nation’s transportation networks, complemented CDC’s order with its own mandate that covers airports and commercial aircraft, as well as surface transportation networks. Before then, mask mandates were solely a matter of airline policy, and the first airline to require masks for passengers, JetBlue Airways, didn’t do so until late April.

TSA’s mandate took effect on February 2 and has already been extended past its original expiration date of May 11. September 13 is the new scheduled end date but the order can be extended again if the federal government deems it necessary, and Cetron’s comments hint that it might be.

“I get we’re all just over this emotionally but I do think we will succeed together if we realize the virus is the enemy and it’s not your fellow citizen or the person sitting next to you on a plane or a piece of cloth that you have to wear over your face,” Cetron told Reuters, adding that federal agencies are expected to follow CDC’s lead on this issue.

Read More: Airline workers have lower rates of COVID-19 than the general population – and airline CEOs say it’s proof that flying is safe

“It is currently unknown as to whether the mask mandate will be extended or kept in place,” Lisa Farbstein, TSA’s spokesperson, told Insider. “What we do know is that the mandate is currently in place until September 13. That gets us through the traditional summer travel season, just past the Labor Day holiday.”

New variants of the coronavirus may encourage the CDC to keep the order in place past September 13. Dominant in the US is now the delta variant that is highly transmissible and proven to infect vaccinated individuals, though data suggests symptoms are mild among those vaccinated.

CDC is forecasting cases to rise in the next four weeks with Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, expecting a delta variant peak in late September, after the September 13 end date of TSA’s current mask policy.

Defiance to the mask mandate has heightened tensions onboard commercial flights as flight crews have been enforcing the policy. Passengers have hurled verbal abuse at flight attendants and interactions have even turned violent, as Insider’s Allana Akhtar reported.

“I’m sure there are some executives and many employees who personally wish the mask mandate would end today, were it not for the threat of the delta variant of the virus, simply to reduce the tensions that exist on aircraft,” Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and cofounder of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider.

Thousands of flyers have also been banned by individual airlines for not abiding by mask mandates.

More travelers are flying this summer more than at any point during the pandemic. US airports are regularly seeing more than two million daily passengers, according to TSA statistics.

Do you have a story to share about aviation or mask-related incidents on airplanes chain? Email this reporter at tpallini@insider.com.

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Flight attendants will get self-defense lessons to protect themselves from violent passengers, the TSA said, as reports of unruly flyers reach record highs

flight attendant mask covid
Flight attendants they have gotten sick less due to pandemic-era cleaning protocols.

  • The Transportation Security Administration will restart self-defense classes for flight crews from July, it said Thursday.
  • The training, paused during the pandemic, would “deter assaults against officers and flight crew,” it said.
  • Flight attendants told Insider earlier in June that they felt burnt out from dealing with aggressive passengers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Flight attendants will get self-defense training from July to stop violent passengers assaulting staff, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced in a Thursday press release.

The voluntary training, led by federal air marshals, was paused during the pandemic, but the TSA said it was bringing the classes back to “deter assaults against officers and flight crew.”

Flight attendants told Insider earlier in June that they felt burnt out from dealing with aggressive passengers as travel bounced back.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has so far reported more than 3,000 incidents of unruly passenger behavior in 2021, most involving travelers refusing to comply with the federal mask mandate.

The FAA has opened 487 investigations into passenger incidents – more than triple the number from 2019, before the pandemic started, and the highest number since the agency started listing its investigations in 1995.

The TSA said passengers had also assaulted security staff, noting two separate cases this month where it said TSA airport officers were attacked. In one incident, a traveller bit two officers and faces a $13,910 civil fine, the TSA said.

The TSA said in the press release that it may “pursue criminal charges and a civil penalty up to the maximum allowable by law” for unruly passengers.

Airports welcomed 2.1 million air passengers on June 20, up from 590,456 for the same day in 2020, and the highest number since March 7 last year, according to TSA data.

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The TSA screened nearly 2 million people at airports on Friday – a record since the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the US travel industry

TSA
Travelers wait in line at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening checkpoint at Orlando International Airport on the Friday before Memorial Day.

  • The TSA screened more than 1.9 million people at US airports on Friday ahead of Memorial Day weekend.
  • That’s a record since the pandemic significantly slowed US air travel in March 2020.
  • On the same day last year, the TSA screened just over 327,000 people, according to the agency.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 2 million people at US airports on Friday ahead of Memorial Day weekend, a record since the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically slowed air travel last year.

According to TSA data, the agency screened 1,959,593 people Friday – nearly six times higher than the number of travelers who went through TSA checkpoints on May 28, 2020.

On the same day in 2019, the agency screened more than 2.5 million people.

The TSA had not screened more than 1.9 million people since March 8 last year, according to agency data. Air travel fell significantly about a week later and has remained lower than average since as people stopped traveling for work or pleasure to slow the spread of the coronavirus. From March 17 to October 18 last year, the agency screened less than 1 million passengers daily, the TSA announced last year.

The TSA has been planning for an increase in travel this summer and earlier this year announced it intended to hire some 6,000 new officers this year by summer.

The increase in air travel is yet another sign that pre-pandemic norms are returning to the US, as more than half of adults in the US have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 as of last week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The majority of all Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC.

People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can travel throughout the US without getting tested for the disease before or after travel, according to CDC guidelines. The agency still recommends that fully vaccinated individuals wear face masks when traveling.

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