- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2022

Top executives from major U.S. airlines want President Biden to allow a federal mandate that requires mask-wearing on planes to expire in mid-April.

CEOs from Delta, United and American and eight other airlines also told the president to lift the requirement that forces overseas visitors to present a negative COVID-19 test before departure, noting such measures failed to box out the spread of the omicron variant.

The executives said they were willing to impose strict measures earlier in the pandemic but rules no longer “make sense” as severe cases dwindle and Mr. Biden pushes a new reality in which the disease is managed as another public threat instead of dominating everyday life.

“The persistent and steady decline of hospitalization and death rates are the most compelling indicators that our country is well protected against severe disease from COVID-19. Given that we have entered a different phase of dealing with this virus, we strongly support your view that ‘COVID-19 need no longer control our lives,’” the airlines said Wednesday in their letter to the president.

Every state in the nation has dropped its indoor mask mandate, as national case counts dip below 30,000 per day — one of the lowest levels of the pandemic.

However, Mr. Biden recently extended a federal mandate on public transportation until April 18.

The airlines said the mandate should expire because plane cabins are considered relatively safe due to the constant filtering of air. Plus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say 99% of the population lives in places where universal indoor mask-wearing is not advised.

The executives said it is unfair for air carriers to enforce masks rules, which have led to major confrontations with passengers who refuse to comply.

“It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do. It is critical to recognize that the burden of enforcing both the mask and pre-departure testing requirements has fallen on our employees for two years now,” they wrote. “This is not a function they are trained to perform and subjects them to daily challenges by frustrated customers. This, in turn, takes a toll on their own well-being.”

Governments and other entities are rushing to lift mandates even as scientists warily eye a sub-variant of omicron, known as BA.2, that spread more swiftly than its predecessors and caused spikes in infections in Europe. 

U.S. officials say the variant does not cause more severe disease so they hope to manage any uptick in cases through available tools, such as vaccines and therapeutics, but they are banking on funding from Congress to maintain the fight.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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