The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the government agency responsible for security screenings across 450 commercial airports, has extended a mandatory face mask requirement by four months.
The agency says on 30 April that the mandate, which took effect on 1 February and was to expire in mid-May, has been extended to 13 September.
It applies to “all transportation networks throughout the United States, including at airports, on-board commercial aircraft, on over-the-road buses and on commuter bus and rail systems”, TSA says.
“The federal mask requirement throughout the transportation system seeks to minimise the spread of Covid-19 on public transportation,” says Darby LaJoye, a senior official performing the duties of the TSA administrator. “About half of all adults have at least one vaccination shot and masks remain an important tool in defeating this pandemic.”
TSA says the rules are consistent with updated policies from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the nation’s public health agency. Earlier this week, the CDC said fully vaccinated people can travel safely domestically, but should continue to wear face coverings and socially distance.
In the past several weeks, aviation unions and airlines have called on the government to extend the mandate beyond its 11 May expiry date. Most carriers introduced their own face covering requirements early during the pandemic in 2020, months prior to the government’s rule, but have said that national rule adds weight and helps them enforce mask-wearing.
While most air travellers comply with mask rules, US airlines have had to ban hundreds of passengers for various unruly behaviour that includes refusal to wear face coverings.
The CDC says on 30 April that almost 143 million people or 55% of the adult population in the United States have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.