Passengers wearing masks on airplanes should be federally mandated, according to Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.
In a recent interview on the TODAY Show, Nelson stressed the importance of the federal government enforcing mask policies for passengers on flights and not leaving it up to the airlines.
"It is absurd that the FAA has not done this yet, that DOT has not taken a leadership role here," Nelson said when asked if the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should step in and mandate mask usage, as policies differ from airline to airline. “Here we are, well into this virus and still no mandate from the federal government,” Nelson added. “We absolutely need that backing from the government.”
Flight crews can only do so much to enforce an airline’s rules for passengers to wear masks while onboard and though most passengers want to follow the rules, she said there are some that do not want to. She referenced a flight attendant who was recently assaulted by an individual for enforcing a mask policy. The flight attendant was injured but is recovering.
“We need to have consequences, just like if you smoke onboard,” Nelson said. She said serious compliance will only come if there are serious consequences for not complying.
The FAA has a page dedicated to COVID-19 regulation updates, but there have been no new guidelines mandating face mask usage for passengers to help protect flight crews. There has been some updated guidance to ensure face masks are available for passengers, but it’s more focused on making masks available to symptomatic passengers than a sweeping enforcement.
“Public health policy has to require that we’re in this together, especially in the airline industry where we cannot properly socially distance,” Nelson said.