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U.S. airline CEOs call on President Biden to end the federal mask mandate on planes

HOUSTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 03: A person works on their laptop at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on December 03, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Many countries have tightened travel restrictions after it was announced the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant, named Omicron. On November 25. U.S. President Joe Biden reinforced travel mandates and required all inbound international travelers to be tested within one day of departure for the United States. Biden also announced that the federal mask mandate requiring travelers to wear masks in airports, on planes, and on other modes of public transportation such as trains and buses has been extended through March 18. The travel bans announced on November 26 prohibit entry into the U.S. of non-citizens coming from eight countries in southern Africa. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
The CEOs of the major U.S. airlines have called on President Biden to end the federal mask mandate for public transportation. Here, a traveler works on a laptop computer at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston on Dec. 3.

A group of CEOs from all major airlines in the U.S. is calling on President Biden to drop the federal transportation mask mandate along with the international pre-departure COVID-19 testing requirement.

In an open letter released by the travel-industry lobbying group Airlines for America, the group is calling on the Biden administration to "sunset federal transportation travel restrictions." The group argues that the restrictions no longer reflect the "realities of the current epidemiological environment."

The letter was signed by the leaders of 10 U.S. companies, including six of the largest airlines in the country: Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United.

"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," the letter said.

The group argues that the increase in vaccinations nationwide and the lifting of restrictions in other countries are reasons the Biden administration should reconsider its COVID policies for travelers.

"We are encouraged by the current data and the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions from coast to coast, which indicate it is past time to eliminate COVID-era transportation policies," the group said.

The CEOs emphasized that, while they've supported and cooperated with the federal government's COVID policies, including masking and pre-departure testing, enforcing those rules has fallen to airline employees for the past two years.

"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," according to Airlines for America.

So far, the White House has not yet commented on the group's request.

The mandate for mask use on public transportation and in transportation hubs had been set to expire on March 18, but earlier this month the Transportation Security Administration extendedthe policy through April 18. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.