The Transport Security Administration stopped enforcing the Biden administration’s mask mandate on planes, trains and other forms of public transportation after a federal judge struck it down. In response to a complaint filed by the Health Freedom Defense Fund in July 2021, the court ruled that the CDC, which had issued the masking requirement in February 2021 at President Biden’s order, overstepped its authority and violated proper procedure in doing so.
While Delta Airlines expressed its “relief to see the U.S. mask mandate lifted to facilitate global travel as COVID-19 has transitioned to an ordinary seasonal virus,” frontline workers in the transportation sector may have mixed feelings about the lifting of the mask mandate.
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On the one hand, it potentially puts them at a much higher risk of infection, but on the other hand they no longer have to enforce a rule that many passengers objected to.
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U.S. airlines saw a dramatic increase in incidents involving unruly passengers last year, the vast majority of which related to the mask mandate and passengers’ refusal to comply with it.
Airline crews reported almost 6,000 unruly passenger incidents to the FAA in 2021, 4,290 of them involving masks. 1,099 of those incidents resulted in FAA investigations for violations of federal aviation regulations and/or federal laws, which is the case when passengers “assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember.”
FAA chief Steve Dickson told ABC News last year that “in a typical year, the agency will end up taking this type of enforcement action in about 100 to 160 enforcement cases”, before adding that “what is really new is the volume that we’re seeing right now.”
Worryingly, in addition to the number of incidents increasing, they are also becoming more violent. The situation even prompted some airlines including Southwest and American to temporarily ban alcohol sales, as alcohol consumption was involved in many cases of passenger unrest.
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