The head of the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday that the agency will not require those flying on commercial aircraft to wear a face covering, instead leaving the decision to individual airlines.
Administrator Stephen Dickson testified before a Senate committee that his agency is not charged with maintaining public health measures for those who fly. Dickson said that job belongs to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Our space is aviation safety, and their space is public health,” Dickson told senators.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao had opposed a federal requirement on masks. She said the issue was best determined by airlines and unionized frontline workers, who are most at risk if coronavirus spreads on planes.
“When the federal government gets involved, we tend to be much more heavy-handed, we tend to be inflexible, and once we put a rule in place, it takes a long time to remove that rule if conditions change,” Chao said at a June 3 event hosted by Politico.
In recent days airlines have announced various policies concerning wearing masks and what happens if you refuse to do so. On Tuesday, Delta Airlines announced that its passengers must be wearing a mask to board and must keep the mask on during the flight. If they don’t, the announcement said, they risk “future flight privileges on Delta.”
American Airlines and United Airlines issued similar statements, warning that passengers who remove their masks will likely be restricted from flying on the carrier in the future. United added that anyone removing their mask during the flight would be going on a no-fly list as far as the airline is concerned.
Almost all U.S. airlines have announced that they will require passengers to wear masks during flights except for when they are eating or drinking.
On Wednesday, American Airlines kicked a passenger off a flight after he refused to wear a face mask.
“Prior to the departure from the gate of American Airlines flight 1263 from New York’s LaGuardia to Dallas/Fort Worth, Brandon Straka declined to wear a face covering,” American Airlines spokesperson Ross Feinstein told USA Today in a statement. “After he refused to comply with the instructions provided by the flight crew, our team members asked him to deplane. He deplaned and the flight departed the gate four minutes late at 12:34 p.m. ET.”
Airlines have also instituted spacing policies for flights. They include:
- American says it’s leaving empty a number of seats on each flight. Some of that will be blocked aren’t middle seats but are seats that face flight attendant jump seats. American will warn passengers about flights that are more full and offer them the opportunity to rebook.
- Delta will block all middle seats and some aisle seats through Sept. 30. Delta is also only filling 50% of domestic first-class seats and 60% of main-cabin seats.
- JetBlue says it’s blocking middle seats on its Airbus jets and aisle seats on smaller aircraft through July 31.
- Hawaiian says it’s blocking middle seats through July 31. The airline is selling only 70% of the seats on its flights.
- Southwest is selling only 93 passengers on its 143-seat Boeing 737-700s. On its 737-800s, Southwest is selling only 114 seats. Everyone should have an empty middle seat between them, the airline said.
- United will allow full flights to take off, but once the passenger load hits 70%, customers are allowed to change flights.