The leader of a flight attendant union on Tuesday encouraged airline passengers to wear a mask on flights if they feel sick, telling CNBC that she thinks it’s an act of “common courtesy “.
The comments come a day after a federal judge in Florida struck down the Biden administration’s Covid face covering mandate for public transportation, including airplanes. The Transportation Security Administration said it would stop enforcing the pandemic policy, and major US airlines said they would also stop requiring masks.
In an interview on “Squawk Box,” Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson said she agreed with co-host Andrew Ross Sorkin, who said he thought regardless of federal rules, people should wear a mask on public transportation if they have Covid or any other illness.
“I think if there’s anything we’ve learned from this [pandemic]it has to be a matter of common courtesy,” Nelson said, while noting that the union had taken a neutral stance on whether the mask mandate should stand because its members were divided. The union represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, according to its website. .
Nelson said flight crews had masks on hand even before the Covid pandemic and would sometimes ask a passenger who was coughing repeatedly to put one on. “It’s not about extending this mask policy. It’s more about how we recognize that we protect each other and that we don’t knowingly bring our own problems or viruses to others. people.”
Prior to Monday’s court ruling, the national face-covering requirement was meant to be in effect until May 3. The Biden administration had extended it several times since last year, including last week.
The Justice Department has yet to say whether it will appeal the decision of U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2020.
“There is absolutely a sigh of relief from the flight crews,” Nelson said. “But there are also people who are really worried – immunocompromised people, people caring for children under 5 at home who haven’t had access to the vaccine yet.”
Masks had become a controversial issue on planes, prompting an increase in disruptive passengers. Last year, cases related to people not wearing masks on flights accounted for more than 70% of the nearly 6,000 reports of unruly passenger behavior recorded by the Federal Aviation Administration. Flight attendants had expressed serious concerns about their own safety in trying to enforce the requirement.
It’s unclear how passengers and flight crew will approach short-term masks as Mizelle’s decision remains unchallenged. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend people wear masks during the pandemic.
CNBC’s Sorkin sought to understand how people feel about the issue in a Twitter poll. The vast majority of the 7,200 first responders to Sorkin’s unscientific poll say they will wear a mask “while knowingly being sick”.
Nelson expressed disappointment that people who know they are sick can get on a plane without taking extra precautions such as wearing a mask.
“I’ve been a flight attendant for 25 years. Every flight attendant knows that when you start flying you have to put your air legs under you and one of those things means you’re going to catch all the viruses and you’re going to have an amazing immune system,” Nelson said.
“The idea that people would say, ‘I’m going to fly sick,’ is quite offensive to me,” she continued. “This is my workplace. You bring this, and you have a greater risk of me being subject to your germs if you do this knowingly. I’m just talking about common courtesy here.”