Flight Attendant Unions Want Passengers To Wear Masks Forever
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) continues to require face masks in airports and on airplanes even as Democratic governors across the country are lifting mask mandates for indoor settings where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is much higher. And while that federal mandate is scheduled to expire on March 18, flight attendant unions want the TSA to extend it.
That position is unsurprising in the sense that the unions have always strongly supported the TSA mandate, which was first imposed more than a year ago. But it makes little sense given the weak justification for the mask rule and its adverse impact on flight attendants.
The unions say they are concerned about adult passengers who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and travelers younger than 5, who are not yet eligible for vaccines. But children have always faced a tiny risk of life-threatening COVID-19 symptoms, and immunocompromised adults who might not get the full benefit from vaccination can protect themselves from infection by wearing high-quality, well-fitting masks, regardless of what other passengers are doing.
The rationale for the mask mandate was never very strong, since the conditions on airplanes are not conducive to virus transmission. The ventilation systems on commercial aircraft, which mix outdoor air with air recycled through HEPA filters and limit air flow between rows, help explain why there were few outbreaks associated with commercial flights even before vaccines were available.
“The risk of contracting COVID-19 during air travel is low,” an October 2020 article in The Journal of the American Medical Association noted. “Despite substantial numbers of travelers, the number of suspected and confirmed cases of in-flight COVID-19 transmission between passengers around the world appears small.” Sebastian Hoehl, a researcher at the Institute for Medical Virology at Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany, concurred in an interview with Scientific American the following month, saying “an airplane cabin is probably one of the most secure conditions you can be in.”
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly reiterated this point during a Senate hearing in December. “I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment,” he said. “It is very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker agreed. “An aircraft is the safest place you can be,” he said. “It’s true of all of our aircraft—they all have the same HEPA filters and air flow.”
Given the availability of vaccines that dramatically reduce the risk of severe disease and N95 masks that protect people who wear them, the TSA rule is blatantly paternalistic. The people most at risk from COVID-19 are adults who decline to be vaccinated. The risk to children is infinitesimal even if they are not vaccinated—smaller than the risk of dying in a car crash if their parents decide to avoid mask hassles by driving instead of flying.
The flight attendant unions are unfazed by these facts. “While more of the world now has access to life-saving vaccines, we still have a significant portion of the population that [is] vulnerable, including our youngest passengers,” says Paul Hartshorn, a spokesman for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American Airlines employees. “Our youngest passengers do not yet have access to the vaccine,” says Taylor Garland, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), which represents employees of several major and regional airlines. “The airplane is a unique but controlled environment for everyone’s safety. The layered
Article from Reason.com