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

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“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 [email protected]

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