Sanders calls for social distancing, masks and disinfection on planes as flights operate at full capacity

Sanders calls for social distancing, masks and disinfection on planes as flights operate at full capacity

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Trump team pounces on Biden gaffes The Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election Warren urges investment in child care workers amid pandemic MORE (I-Vt.) is calling on federal officials to require face coverings for airline passengers, limit the capacity of flights and more cleaning amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a Thursday letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoWider impact of COVID: Some voids will be forever, some need not be OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration says proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska is not a threat to fisheries | Democrats push environmental policies in 9.5B budget package | Green groups threaten suit over push to transport liquefied natural gas by rail Environmentalists threaten suit over push to transport liquefied natural gas by rail MORE and Department of Transportation Administrator Stephen Dickson, Sanders raised the alarm about the coronavirus spread on planes, specifically calling out American Airlines after the company announced last week that, as of July 1, flights will be booked to capacity.

Sanders said that the move “reveals a stunning lack of federal government action to protect passengers, flight attendants, pilots, and other aviation workers."

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“There is universal agreement among scientists and medical experts that social distancing and mask wearing are the two most important and effective tools we have to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. Yet across the industry, airline policies on mask-wearing and social distancing have been inconsistent, incomplete, and unenforced,” Sanders wrote.

“This is unacceptable and is endangering the health and safety of airline passengers and workers,” he continued.

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Sanders requested that the officials implement a slate of safety regulations, including requiring “masks or face coverings for passengers and workers in all airports and airplanes, with very limited exceptions” and limiting “the maximum capacity of passengers on flights to 67% of available seats.”

Sanders also requested that the officials require “airlines and airports to meet cleaning standards to disinfect, or sanitize” and “airlines to meet standards for air circulation and filtration.” 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield told lawmakers during a Tuesday hearing that “there was substantial disappointment with American Airlines” following the announcement.

Sanders told Redfield during the hearing that he hoped the CDC or other federal officials would order airlines and travel companies to enforce social distancing between passengers.

"I just hope very much that the CDC or the appropriate agency basically tells these companies that that is unacceptable behavior," Sanders said. "They're endangering the lives of the American people."

Airlines for America (A4A), which represents the major U.S. airlines, threatened last month that customers could be put on a carriers’ do-not-fly list if they don’t wear a face mask of covering on planes.

United Airlines announced last month that passengers who refuse to wear masks will be put on an internal restriction list and will not be allowed on future flights. JetBlue, American Airlines and other major airlines also require that customers wear face coverings.

A4A defended American Airlines's social distancing policy, with CEO Nicholas E. Calio telling reporters that “You can’t social distance on an airplane. We believe there are safety measures in place on a multi-level basis that makes flying safe, in fact safer than many other activities."

Some airports have not mandated face coverings for passengers boarding planes and awaiting flights. Airline industry leaders have called for government officials to establish national guidelines for masks and other facial coverings during travel.