Only 'guidelines': FAA won't make wearing of face masks on airlines mandatory
The Federal Aviation Administration won't require the wearing of masks on commercial aircraft, continuing to leave that issue to individual airlines, the agency's chief said Wednesday.
Administrator Stephen Dickson told a Senate committee that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not the FAA, is the lead agency charged with mandating safety precautions against the spread of the coronavirus.
"Our space is aviation safety and their space is public health," he said.
Two senators expressed dismay that the FAA would suggest, rather than require, anti-COVID-19 safety measures on planes in the face of a public health crisis that has resulted in the deaths of more than 110,000 people in the U.S.
When it comes to having passengers wear face masks on planes, "reports have shown enforcement for noncompliance has been uneven and difficult," said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, "The FAA needs to do more to ensure the aviation system is mitigating the spread of the virus."
Sen. Brian Schatz reacted when Dickson referred to new "guidelines" being developed to aid airlines with practices to help ward off COVID-19.
"Is this, like, a philosophical thing with you folks?" the Democrat from Hawaii asked. "I just don't get why you wouldn't want this to be mandatory,"
Dickson replied by citing Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao's policy that "these will not be regulatory mandates."
Dickson added, however, that the agency is monitoring airlines' voluntary safety programs "to make sure they are following through" and that airlines have been better about enforcement.
Most airlines require passengers to wear masks. Some say they are trying to take other precautions, like checking passengers' temperatures before they board planes and leaving middle seats empty when flights aren't full.
But it isn't always easy. United Airlines, for instance, said it is developing a list of passengers who refuse to wear masks. Those who refuse could be barred from future flights.