Wicker: Time to End Mask Rules on Airplanes

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The following piece was written and submitted by Senator Roger Wicker 

Americans who have recently set foot in an airport or a train station probably felt like they were stepping back in time. Although the pandemic is subsiding and masks are no longer required in most settings, those who wish to board a plane or a train are still being forced to wear masks – even if they are fully vaccinated. Passengers are being instructed to keep their masks on even while eating and drinking – “between bites and sips” – as if doing so would actually stop the virus from spreading. Those who refuse to comply risk losing their seats, being denied service in the future, and even being fined. Americans are getting fed up with these overbearing rules that have no basis in scientific fact.

CDC Should Follow the Science

The huge strides we have made against COVID-19 have led public officials to end restrictions across the country, even in once-locked down states like New York. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledged this progress in May when it announced that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most public spaces. Unfortunately, the CDC kept strict rules in place for public transportation, including aviation and rail, and is still requiring most travelers above two years old to continue wearing masks – even though children are at extremely low risk. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is enforcing this mandate until mid-September, meaning passengers will have to endure another two months of forced mask-wearing.

This nationwide policy is totally unnecessary given the positive trends we are seeing. Our nation is approaching 160 million people fully vaccinated, and recent studies show that vaccinated people are highly immune to the virus and are unlikely to spread it – making masks unnecessary. The virus is also much less likely to spread on airplanes than other public places, since the HEPA air filters on board help purify the air throughout the flight. There is simply no reason for the CDC to single out domestic travel as uniquely risky. The CDC should accept this reality and allow travelers to make their own decisions about what protective measures to take.

Democrats Block Removal of Mask Rules

As the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, I have spoken publicly about the need to end this blanket mask mandate on travelers, yet some of my Democrat colleagues have blocked meaningful attempts to intervene on behalf of the traveling public. Recently in the Commerce Committee, Democrats voted down a measure that would have reversed the mask mandate for travelers, and the following week Democrats blocked similar legislation on the Senate floor. I am now cosponsoring a resolution calling on the CDC to end its mask policy and bring travel into line with other major sectors of the economy.

Despite these setbacks, there are some good bipartisan discussions taking place on this issue. Recently I joined a bipartisan group of senators, including Democrats Brian Schatz and Amy Klobuchar, in sending a letter to the CDC and TSA asking them to explain how the latest science is informing their decisions. Americans have been told for more than a year to “trust the science,” and the science now says it is safe to resume normal life once we have been vaccinated. The CDC and TSA need to follow their own advice and end this outdated mask mandate.

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