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Biden administration set to extend mask mandate for travel through mid-January

A “Face Masks Required” sign at Springfield-Branson National Airport (SGF) in Springfield, Missouri, U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021.

Angus Mordant | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Biden administration is expected to soon extend a federal requirement that travelers wear masks on commercial flights and other modes of transportation through mid-January, according to a people familiar with the matter.

The measure is the latest sign of persistent concerns within the federal government about the spread of Covid-19. Airlines including Southwest and Spirit have warned about a drop in bookings and higher cancellations, trends they blamed on the fast-spreading delta variant of Covid-19.

The current mask rules, aimed to curb the spread of the virus, were extended this spring through Sept. 13.

The administration will extend the mandate through Jan. 18, the people said. Officials briefed airlines on Tuesday about the plan, which was reported earlier by Reuters, one of the people said.

The Transportation Security Administration declined to comment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t immediately comment.

The extension covers traditionally busy periods for air travel such as Thanksgiving and December holidays.

Airline executives say most passengers comply with the mask requirements. However, the vast majority of reports of unruly travelers this year are tied to travelers who allegedly refuse to wear masks.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it has received 3,889 unruly passenger reports this year through Monday, nearly 74% of them related to violations of the mask mandate.

The Association of Flight Attendants, the labor union for about 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, said it supported the extension of the mandate.

“While vaccination has been key to the increased air travel demand, the lagging vaccination rates and rise of the Delta variant has caused cases to skyrocket again – threatening lives, continued virus mutation, and recovery from this pandemic,” said AFA’s international president, Sara Nelson, said in a statement. TSA “Administrator [David] Pekoske’s decision in coordination with the Biden administration to continue the TSA enforcement directive for the CDC transportation mask mandate will help tremendously to keep passengers and aviation workers safe.”


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