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House Dems introduce bill to require masks on planes and in airports

House Democrats introduced a bill that would require passengers to wear masks on commercial planes and in airports to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The Healthy Flights Act, spearheaded by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioShould the United States withdraw from the WTO? OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House approves .5T green infrastructure plan | Rubio looks to defense bill to block offshore drilling, but some fear it creates a loophole | DC-area lawmakers push for analysis before federal agencies can be relocated Republicans score procedural victory on Democrats’ infrastructure bill MORE (D-Ore.) and the panel’s Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Rick LarsenRichard (Rick) Ray LarsenTrump raises idea of delaying election Democrats fear US already lost COVID-19 battle Republicans stand by Esper after public break with Trump MORE (D-Wash.), would clarify that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has the authority to impose the mask requirements.

Major U.S. airlines announced in June that masks were required on flights, but the requirement is not mandated by the federal government. Airlines have allowed people to remove their masks to eat or drink, but customers who refused to wear the protective gear could be placed on a do-not-fly list.

Airports across the country have inconsistent standards for facial coverings and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has relied on airports to make those policies. Masks were required inside 20 of the 30 largest hub airports in the U.S. as of the end of June.

The bill would also require issuance of masks and protective equipment to airline employees and certain FAA employees like air traffic controllers and aviation safety inspectors, during any public health emergency stemming from an airborne disease. It calls for a study on transmission in airplane cabins. 

The Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA), which has begged the government to set a face mask policy for passengers, applauded the legislation.

“From the beginning of this pandemic, airports have taken every available step to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the simple act of wearing a mask or other face covering goes a long way to achieving that goal,” ACI-NA CEO Kevin M. Burke said in a statement. “This bill is designed to ensure the health and safety of passengers and will help restore confidence in the traveling public.”

But Airlines for America, which represents and advocates for major U.S. airlines, told The Hill it has concerns about the bill.

“While U.S. airlines strongly support and enforce mask requirements throughout the travel experience, we have real concerns about the number of mandates the bill seeks to impose on our businesses,” the group said in a statement. “The aviation industry has arguably done more than any other sector to mitigate COVID-19 transmission, airlines should not be uniquely singled-out and regulated far beyond any other business in the transportation sector, let alone the entire U.S.”

The international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA Sara Nelson recently said that it is “absurd” that the FAA has not required airline passengers to wear masks. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said last week that over 100 people had been added to the airlines no-fly list for refusing to wear a mask on a flight.

Nelson applauded the legislation on Thursday, along with Air Line Pilots Association International President Joe DePete and Association of Professional Flight Attendants President Julie Hedrick, among others.

Earlier this month, Reps. Ted BuddTheodore (Ted) Paul BuddBipartisan bill introduced to require TSA to take temperature checks How to combat substance abuse during COVID-19 Atlanta airport checkpoint closed after worker tests positive for coronavirus MORE (R-N.C.), Ralph NormanRalph Warren NormanBipartisan bill introduced to require TSA to take temperature checks House Republicans urge White House to support TSA giving travelers temperature checks House GOP urge Trump against supporting additional funding for state and local governments MORE (R-S.C.) and John Larson John Barry LarsonHouse seeks ways to honor John Lewis Bipartisan bill introduced to require TSA to take temperature checks Congress must act now to fix a Social Security COVID-19 glitch and expand, not cut, benefits MORE (D-Conn.) introduced legislation to require TSA to conduct a pilot program for checking passengers’ temperatures at security checkpoints, a move called for by Airlines for America.

Updated at 12:26 p.m.

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