DOT refuses air travel mask mandate as President Trump travels to Walter Reed

Ella Castle

Minutes before President Trump departed by helicopter to Walter Reed Medical Center for hospitalization following his COVID diagnosis, on October 2nd, the Department of Transportation (DOT) denied Flyers Rights’ emergency rulemaking petition requesting the DOT mandate a mask rule for all persons on airplanes and at airports, with some health, […]

Minutes before President Trump departed by helicopter to Walter Reed Medical Center for hospitalization following his COVID diagnosis, on October 2nd, the Department of Transportation (DOT) denied Flyers Rights’ emergency rulemaking petition requesting the DOT mandate a mask rule for all persons on airplanes and at airports, with some health, disability, and operational exceptions.  

The DOT articulated three justifications for denying Flyers Rights’ rulemaking petition: First, DOT claimed that it does not need to promulgate a rule when “most” airlines already have adopted some form of a mask policy. Second, DOT argued its joint guidance with the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health & Human Services (HHS), recommending airlines and airports merely consider coronavirus mitigation techniques, is sufficient to meet their responsibilities to ensure safe air travel. Third, the DOT “embrace[d] the notion that there should be no more regulations than necessary,” according to DOT General Counsel Steven Bradbury. 

“The DOT’s timing is impeccable,” Paul Hudson, President of Flyers Rights remarked.

“President Trump’s
coronavirus diagnosis made the entire country confront the reality that the
coronavirus pandemic is still active and that everyone must continue to follow
CDC’s recommendation for mask wearing and social distancing. DOT abdicating its
responsibility at this time is unconscionable.” 

Paul Hudson continued, “DOT’s weak stance on coronavirus measures from the beginning, including masking and social distancing, forced the airlines to create a patchwork of policies on their own. Passengers cannot have confidence in air travel health safety based on voluntary policies that can be changed or ignored at will.”  

DOT General Counsel Steven Bradbury’s denial letter notes, “All major U.S. carriers and most others require the use of face masks.” Paul Hudson cautioned “The DOT should not base its decision to not create and enforce a rule, on the basis that most, but not all, airlines have mask policies.” 

Reports indicate that some airlines have been lax in enforcing their mask policies, and social distancing is impossible on most flights. Flyers Rights has also called on DOT to start monitoring the situation.  

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