The End of Airline Mask Mandates

The End of Airline Mask Mandates

The End of Airline Mask Mandates

COVID-19
19 April 2022

Mask mandates have been an inescapable part of air travel for more than two years. A recent study of Machinist Union members in commercial aviation suggests that most airline workers are ready for them to end.

A recent study of Machinists Union views on mask mandates within the airline industry found that most union members are ready to ditch mask mandates. 69% of participants said Federal mask mandates at airports should be lifted “as soon as possible,” with another 6% saying that they should be allowed to expire. Together, 75% of union members participating in the study favored lifting mask mandates. Only 11% thought that Federal authorities should extend mandates for airports. Union members were not anti-mask, however. 29% of respondents said they planned to continue wearing a mask at least part of the time, regardless of whether or not they were mandated. 

The study comes as a federal judge struck down Federal mandates on Monday, citing administrative errors and claiming that the Centers for Disease Control lacked authority to implement such requirements. The rules have been in place since April of 2020, when the CDC first began recommending them, and have been repeatedly extended. Masking rules had been set to expire on April 18 but were extended to May 3. The court ruling means that the mandates will expire at once. International travelers will still need to follow regulations adopted by nations that continue to require masking. 

In the wake of the ruling, all major airlines and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that they would no longer enforce mask rules. Instead, masks will become optional for those who want to wear them for safety reasons. 

“While this means that you are no longer required to wear a mask – and no longer have to enforce a mask requirement for most of the flying public – we ask that you respect the decision of those employees or customers who choose to do so, as the CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask on public transit,” United Airlines said in a statement to employees. 

Federal mask mandates have been a sharp trigger point for airline passengers since they were implemented in April of 2020. More than 7,000 attacks on airline workers have been reported since the pandemic began, the vast majority occurring as gate agents and flight crews attempted to enforce masking rules. In a typical year, airlines would only report about 150 such attacks. More than 3,000 attacks have been reported in 2021, a year that is only in its fourth month. 

The Biden Administration has not immediately announced whether or not it will appeal the decision but continues to recommend that passengers wear masks while traveling. The Administration may both allow the mandates to end while at the same time appealing the ruling. 

The decision, handed down by US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, includes a few perplexing statements. While a popular decision among passengers and unionized airline workers, the ruling may nevertheless invite scrutiny. (The decision can be read here.)

In her ruling, Judge Mizelle claims that the Federal governments’ authority to control infectious diseases is limited to “measures that clean something,” since they often use the word “sanitation” in describing the responsibilities of state and local governments. 

“At most,” she wrote of masking, “it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance.” If Congress had intended to use the word “sanitation” as the defendants defined the term, she wrote, the government would gain the power to force people to start “coughing into elbows” and take daily multivitamins. “Wearing a mask means nothing,” she concluded.

She also found that the public was not granted sufficient opportunity to comment on the mandates and that they must be struck down in their entirety due to the difficulty in granting exemptions on a case-by-case basis. Judge Mizelle was rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. 

The scope of the decision could potentially limit the ability of the CDC to combat viral outbreaks in the future if allowed to stand in its entirety. 

While the flying public and airline workers may prefer a more solid court ruling, the end of masking requirements seems to be a popular and welcome development. 

At least one airline, Alaska Airlines, warns that those passengers who attacked airline workers and other travelers after being told to mask up would still not be allowed back on planes. “Based on our reports, we will have some guests whose behavior was particularly egregious who will remain banned, even after the mask policy is rescinded,” the airline said in a statement released on Monday. 

Related News

2022 Stutz Memorial Scholarship Winners Announced!

2022 Stutz Memorial Scholarship Winners Announced!

Congratulations to the 2022 Stutz Memorial Scholarship Winners!Service to the Community1 August 2022To: District Lodge 141 Scholarship Competition ApplicantsSubject: Scholarship AwardsOn behalf of the District Lodge 141 Scholarship Committee, I am pleased to announce...

Spirit / JetBlue Merger Statement

Spirit / JetBlue Merger Statement

Spirit / JetBlue Merger Statement28 July 2022 To our Sisters and Brothers of Spirit Airlines, This morning, JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines announced plans to merge to create the nation's fifth largest carrier. Spirit Airlines shareholders yesterday rejected...

Airlines Call For End to Mask Mandates

Airlines Call For End to Mask Mandates

Airlines Call For End to Mask Mandates

Legislation
24 March 2022

Ten airlines and air cargo carriers are asking President Joe Biden to lift Federal mask mandates for travelers. They are also calling for an end to testing requirements for international travel.

In a joint statement, the airlines argued that the mandates are no longer necessary and create an ongoing burden for airlines.

“The high level of immunity in the U.S., availability of high-quality masks for those who wish to use them, hospital-grade cabin air, widespread vaccine availability, and newly available therapeutics provide a strong foundation for the Administration to lift the mask mandate and predeparture testing requirements,” the statement read. 

The letter was jointly signed by the CEOs of Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Atlas Air Worldwide, Delta Air Lines, FedEx Express, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and UPS Airlines.

The letter also argues that those who wish to continue wearing masks are free to do so. 

Masking mandates were scheduled to end on March 18 but were extended amid ongoing surges and new, more transmissible variants. The issue will be reviewed on 18 April, when the Administration will decide whether or not to extend the mandate or allow it to expire. 

“It is critical to recognize that the burden of enforcing both the mask and predeparture testing requirements has fallen on our employees for two years now,” the statement read. “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,” it continued. 

According to industry studies from airline unions, mask mandates have led to more than 4,000 attacks on airline employees tasked with enforcing Federal rules. In 2021, there were more than 5,500 incidents reported by airline workers. There were typically only about one to two hundred such attacks before the pandemic. In about 40% of these cases, airline managers and police did not follow up abuse with serious consequences. About 70% of air rage attacks happen as airline workers attempt to enforce federal masking mandates. 

You can read the entire statement here.

 

Motion on the Floor: Should Federal Mask Mandates for Airlines Be Lifted?

Related News

2022 Stutz Memorial Scholarship Winners Announced!

2022 Stutz Memorial Scholarship Winners Announced!

Congratulations to the 2022 Stutz Memorial Scholarship Winners!Service to the Community1 August 2022To: District Lodge 141 Scholarship Competition ApplicantsSubject: Scholarship AwardsOn behalf of the District Lodge 141 Scholarship Committee, I am pleased to announce...

Spirit / JetBlue Merger Statement

Spirit / JetBlue Merger Statement

Spirit / JetBlue Merger Statement28 July 2022 To our Sisters and Brothers of Spirit Airlines, This morning, JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines announced plans to merge to create the nation's fifth largest carrier. Spirit Airlines shareholders yesterday rejected...

141 Report: Paws for Pascarella

141 Report: Paws for Pascarella

Our 141 report this week takes us to IAM local lodge 1759 in Herndon, Virginia, as the membership conducted the annual Paws for Pascarella Guide Dogs of America charity event.

 

141 Report: Paws for Pascarella

Our 141 report this week takes us to IAM local lodge 1759 in Herndon, Virginia, as the membership conducted the annual Paws for Pascarella Guide Dogs of America charity event.

The video report begins with an update from District President Mike Klemm, who traveled to Dulles Airport to conduct a station visit with the United Airlines membership. In the Video podcast, Brother Klemm informs the membership about this week’s trip to the United Airlines hub at Dulles Airport and Local 1759.  

 On Tuesday, Mike attended the monthly Lodge meeting and spoke to the members about the vaccine mandates at American and United Airlines. He also talked about the status of the ongoing negotiations at Spirit Airlines. Spirit has recently entered mediation proceedings.

Mike said, “We’ll be working with the mediation board to hopefully get a tentative agreement for our members of Spirit to vote on.” Brother Klemm also talked about the upcoming negotiation with United Airlines. Mike stated, “We should be seeing a communication coming out on that in the very near future.” 

Mike continues the report by saying he went over to the airport to visit multiple shifts and multiple briefings for members at United. He answered questions about the mandate and vaccine, as well as responding to questions about negotiations. Mike said it was “a real good visit.” Mike walked the property with 141 VP at East Barb Martin, who also serves as the committee chairman in Dulles, Mike Cyscon, the AGC assigned to the ramp, and Rich Creighton, who serves as AGC to customer service above the wing. Joe Washburn, the southeast regional EAP, also joined Mike on the visit. Brother Klemm thanked the local committee, Bill Hoover, Bill Peer, Sherry Curtis, President Bill Huston, and his entire 1759 executive board for their hospitality. 

Mike then talked about the fundraising event for guide dogs that he attended. The 1759 Charity event was In honor of his former AGC, Rich Pascarella, who unfortunately passed away a few years ago. “Rich not only was a phenomenal union rep and an outstanding AGC but also a personal friend of mine and it’s actually his birthday today.” Mike said of the beloved unionist.

The following guest speaker was Sherrie Curtis from local 1759, the UA Customer Service Committee person at Dulles Airport. “We’re here tonight celebrating our second annual event for Rich Pascarella.” The Charity Top Golf event took place in Loudoun County, having about 60 people that showed up to celebrate and raise funds for Guide Dogs of America. IAM members came from Boston, Newark, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Sherrie reports that Rich Passcarella families came to town driving in from Pittsburgh to celebrate a good time with us. 

Donations came rolling in from Locals 914 in Newark and 1776 in Philadelphia, donating $500 each to sponsor a golfing bay to support GDA. 

In the last part of the report, Dave talks to 1759 UA member Ron Rukenbrod who describes how he and his committee put the event together. He spoke of getting donations from local stores, wineries, and brewhouses for many charity baskets they put together. Ron said, “If you send out 100 letters and you only get 20 people to donate, you’re still 20 people ahead. So it’s always good to just overextend. Ron speaks about the support from the 141 Community Service Director, Cristina Odoardi, saying, “she’s been wonderful reaching out to us; what can I do? What can I do? We’ve been very fortunate”. 

If your local is interested in putting a community service event together, be sure to contact Sister Cristina at codoardi@iam141.org.

Mike Klemm, District 141 President, on NBC Nightly News Discussing Vaccine Mandates

Mike Klemm, District 141 President, on NBC Nightly News Discussing Vaccine Mandates

IAMAW District President and Directing General Chair, Mike Klemm was among those calling for United to use incentive programs before terminations at United.

Mike Klemm, District 141 President, on NBC Nightly News Discussing Vaccine Mandates

IAMAW District 141 President Mike Klemm was among those interviewed in the aftermath of United Airlines’ decision to fire nearly 600 employees who refused to get vaccinated and did not obtain a religious or medical exemption. 

Unions around the nation are facing vaccine mandates, including professional athletes, actors, Flight Attendants, Pilots, and others. To date, no unions, lawmakers, government officials, or organizations have successfully prevented employer vaccine mandates.

The position of the IAMAW District 141 is that employer vaccine mandates are unnecessarily provocative and divisive. They should not be used until an honest, good-faith effort to employee incentive programs has been tried first. IAMAW District 141 is planning to use the Grievance process to defend the contractual rights of any workers who lose their jobs as a result of vaccine mandates.

Watch This Couple Scream at JetBlue Crewmembers, Get Thrown Off Flight

Watch This Couple Scream at JetBlue Crewmembers, Get Thrown Off Flight

Warning: Adult Language and Content: The tantrum is the latest in a record-shattering number of air-rage incidents that have happened this year. This year, entitled and enraged passengers have been fined more than $1 million, resulting from more than 3,000 serious rage incidents in 2021.

Watch This Couple Scream at JetBlue Crewmembers, Get Thrown Off Flight

Last week, flight crews booted a couple from a JetBlue flight to San Diego during a screaming, drunken tirade over masks. As usual, the event was captured on video and posted online for all to enjoy.

In the video posted on Reddit, a man can be seen screaming and grabbing at a male flight attendant who, he said, did not give him enough warning that his nose needed to go in his mask.  “You gave me one “f-ing warning,” he shrieked in the viral video.  “I pulled it up the second he said something,” he continued. “The second he said something, I pulled it over my nose,” he cried in a high-pitched wail as cellphones recorded.

At one point, Alice Runkevich, who recorded the video, grabs some snacks and turns her attention to a female passenger accompanying the man. As she enters the video, his counterpart is correctly wearing her mask, nose in, but she seems to lose those skills soon after. Stumbling and slurring her speech, she pleads to the other passengers that they tried to follow the Federally-mandated mask rules but just couldn’t satisfy the flight crews.  “We’re being kicked off the flight and we don’t know why,” she explains, adding, “we’re Americans.”

Despite this, they were both removed from the flight before it left Fort Lauderdale, to the delight of onlooking passengers. Flight B6 529 had been delayed for several hours before the incident, which went down while the plane was on the tarmac.

JetBlue said in a statement that the would-be travelers had been asked “multiple times but would not comply with the federal mask mandate.”

“Eventually the customers were asked to leave the aircraft at which time one customer became verbally and physically aggressive toward crewmembers before eventually exiting the aircraft,” the carrier said in a statement to local media outlets. “The customers will not be allowed to fly JetBlue in the future.”

The tantrum is the latest in a record-shattering number of air-rage incidents that have happened this year. This year, entitled and enraged passengers have been fined more than $1 million, resulting from more than 3,000 serious rage incidents in 2021. According to IAMAW District 141 Legislative Director David Roderick, the attacks are not limited to in-flight; they are becoming a problem for gate and ticket counter agents, as well. 

“it’s really not just airline workers getting abused this way,” said Roderick. “There have been 85 assaults on uniformed TSA Agents this year, too.” Roderick suggested that increased penalties for those who abuse airline workers and other airport staff may need to be increased to discourage more assaults. “Most of these attacks are provoked by Federal masking rules and alcohol,” he said. “We don’t make Federal masking rules, no airline does. We just have to enforce them – which puts our members in danger too often.”

Roderick is participating in discussions with a coalition of labor unions, including the Chicago Federation of Labor to develop legislative strategies to deal with the rise in air rage incidents. On September 4th, Roderick and representatives from the Airport Labor Committee met with AFL-CIO President Robert Reiter and Vice President Tefere Gebre to discuss the issue. “The main goal was finding ways to get more union members involved in this issue,” Roderick said of the meeting.

In September, the Biden Administration doubled the penalties for not wearing masks at airports and aboard aircraft to between $500 and $1,000. Fines for repeated violations can go as high as $3,000. Disrupting or attempting to intimidate or interfere with a flight crew is now a federal offense that can potentially result in prison time.