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TSA Extends Mask Mandates into 2022

Rising cases of the COVID-19 delta variant prompts masking requirements even for fully vaccinated travelers

August 17, 2021

The Transportation Security Administration has announced an extension of the current mask mandates on airplanes, trains and buses and at airports and train stations through Jan. 18. The current transportation mask requirement was set to run out Sept. 13.

The news comes as COVID-19 cases linked to the highly transmissible delta variant have surged nationwide. “The purpose of TSA’s mask directive is to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation,” an agency spokesperson told Reuters.

President Joe Biden initially enacted the rules by executive order shortly after taking office in January, and it had been hoped that with the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, the requirement would no longer be necessary by fall.

However, the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention holds that the current mask mandate extends to all travelers, including those who have received a full course of the vaccine. This reflects a more widespread policy change by health officials, reversing mask recommendations to include fully vaccinated individuals in areas of the country that are seeing a surge in coronavirus cases.

TSA and CDC briefed major US airlines and aviation unions on the plan to extend the mandate prior to the announcement. In most polls, the great majority of travelers say they are positive about mask mandate. And scientific research has found mask wearing at all stages of travel to be an essential factor in reducing public health risks.

“Extending the federal mask mandate for travel makes sense for the current health environment and has the travel industry’s full support,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy at the US Travel Association.

“The universal wearing of masks in airports and on airplanes, trains and other forms of public transportation is both an effective safeguard against spreading the virus and boosts public confidence in traveling – both of which are paramount for a sustained economic recovery.”

However, since the mask mandates were introduced, airlines and airports have seen a significant rise safety and security incidents, with some travelers refusing to comply with the requirements.

As a result, since Jan. 1, airlines have reported 3,715 incidents involving unruly passengers, a sharp rise over pre-pandemic years. In response the Federal Aviation Administration has instituted a “zero tolerance” enforcement effort on unruly passengers.

More recently, FAA administrator Stephen Dickson has urged airports and local law enforcement agencies to step up enforcement, bringing criminal charges in more cases where passengers have harassed, threatened, sexually assaulted and, in some cases, physically attacked TSA officers, airline personnel and other,