Biden signs order to require masks on planes and public transportation

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
US President Joe Biden signs executive orders as part of the Covid-19 response in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. 

President Biden on Thursday signed an executive order to mandate mask wearing on planes and on other modes of transportation as part of a group of several executive orders issued to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order will mandate mask wearing on public transportation including in airports, on airplanes and on trains. It follows an order Wednesday that required wearing a mask on federal lands and in federal buildings.

Biden said prior to his inauguration that he will sign an executive order to require masks for travel “where I can, under the law, like federal buildings, interstate travel on planes, trains and buses.” 

Major U.S airlines have required masks on planes and have taken steps to put passengers on no-fly lists if they refuse. Mask policies in U.S. airports differ because most have to comply with local and state rules and regulations. 

Amtrak has required passengers use facial coverings on trains since May, but a spokesperson told The Hill on Thursday that “a federal directive that passengers are required to comply with would reinforce our current policy.” 

The order comes the same day Biden’s pick to lead the Transportation Department, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, had his confirmation hearing in the Senate. He emphasized the need for safety in the transportation sector amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Major U.S. airlines, represented by Airlines for America (A4A), have lobbied against the federal government mandating masks on airplanes, arguing that there’s no comparable requirement for other businesses. 

But airports, represented by the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA), have called for the government to step in since May. Additionally, flight attendant and pilot unions have called for a nationwide rule requiring masks in terminals and on planes. 

A4A CEO Nicholas Calio said in a comment on Thursday that the group appreciates Biden’s decision, but underscored that U.S. airlines have been “vigorously enforcing face covering requirements since April 2020.”

Calio added, “U.S. airlines have been supportive of a federal mandate as an additional layer of support and welcome today’s Executive Order, which will strengthen our flight crews’ ability to enforce face covering requirements for the duration of the pandemic.”

ACI-NA CEO Kevin Burke welcomed the order and noted that it first asked the Trump administration to establish a mask mandate in May.

“[W]e have been consistently calling for federal guidelines for the use of facial coverings in airports since the spring. We are grateful for this leadership from the Biden administration to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 and re-instill confidence for those who work in or travel through America’s airports,” Burke said.

Updated 8:30 p.m.

Tags Joe Biden Pete Buttigieg

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