The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday said it will not make it mandatory for passengers to wear masks on planes, leaving the decision to require the protective gear up to individual airlines.
FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will take the lead in mandating safety regulations and that the FAA will focus on “aviation safety.”
"Our space is aviation safety and their space is public health," he said, later adding that "these will not be regulatory mandates," referring to masks.
The FAA will also monitor airlines' voluntary safety programs "to make sure they are following through" and insisted that individual airlines have improved their enforcement of guidelines from federal health officials.
However, Dickson’s remarks drew swift pushback from Democrats on the Commerce panel, saying the FAA needed to have stricter enforcement over masks.
“Reports have shown enforcement for noncompliance has been uneven and difficult,” said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). “The FAA needs to do more to ensure the aviation system is mitigating the spread of the virus.”
“Is this, like, a philosophical thing with you folks?” added Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' Milestone bill would bar imports linked to forest destruction MORE (D-Hawaii). “I just don't get why you wouldn't want this to be mandatory.”
Many airlines already require masks to be worn on flights, and some have taken extra precautions like checking passengers’ temperatures prior to boarding.
United Airlines has also announced it is crafting a list of passengers who do not wear masks on their flights and that those who refuse may be barred from traveling on the airline in the future.