By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The chief executives of American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and other carriers on Wednesday urged U.S. President Joe Biden to end a federal mask mandate on airplanes and international pre-departure testing requirements.
The airline executives, including the chairman of Southwest Airlines and JetBlue's CEO, said in a letter the restrictions "are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment."
The Biden administration this month opted to extend current COVID-19 mask requirements at airports, train stations, ride share vehicles and other transit modes through April 18. The order was set to expire on March 18.
"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 airline letter said.
The White House declined to comment, but earlier this month said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was working to help develop "a revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor."
Delta CEO Ed Bastian in a separate statement https://news.delta.com/delta-asks-biden-administration-end-covid-era-travel-restrictions said "considering the improved public health metrics in the U.S. and medical advancements to prevent the worst outcomes of COVID-19, the federal mask mandate and pre-departure testing no longer fits with the current environment."
The letter also made reference to "thousands of airline employees charged with enforcing" the COVID rules.
The mask requirements have resulted in significant friction on airplanes. The Federal Aviation Administration says since January 2021, there have been a record 6,942 unruly passenger incidents reported – and 70% involved masking rules
Last week, the U.S. Senate voted 57 to 40 to overturn the 13-month-old public health order requiring masks on airplanes and other forms of public transportation, a move that drew a quick veto threat from Biden.
The mask mandate has drawn significant opposition from Republicans who noted the CDC says 99.5% of Americans live in places where it is safe to ditch indoor masks.
The letter cited the CDC data arguing "the science clearly supports lifting the mask mandate."
The 2021 CDC order said the mask mandate could help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in crowded transport settings.
(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Chris Reese and Bill Berkrot)
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