The news about the Justice Department appealing the April 2021 court decision that the CDC did not have the power to enforce a travel mask mandate on Tuesday has been met with differing views across the travel industry.
The federal travel mask mandate was set in place by the CDC in January 2021 during the beginning days of the Biden administration after having been disallowed from doing so by the former Trump administration, though airlines had been under their own mask mandates for longer. The federal mandate lasted only a few months before being struck down by a judge in Florida who ruled that the CDC did not have the authority to have the travel mask mandate in place.
It should be noted that the reversal of such a ruling does not mean that the government would once again enforce the travel mask mandate immediately, but that it would once again retain the lawful authority to do so. It should also be noted that some airlines continue to enforce mask wearing by their own authority and all airlines maintain the authority to do so.
Travel industry leaders and travel advisors all weighed in on the appeal. Some were adamantly against the appeal and the possibility of going back to a federal travel mask mandate, while many travel advisors said they would support a return to one if it was deemed necessary to protect people and to keep travel open.
While no airlines have commented publicly on this topic yet, Hannah Walden, Manager of Communications at Airlines for America issued an exclusive statement when contacted by TravelPulse about the appeal:
“The safety and wellbeing of the traveling public and employees is the top priority of U.S. airlines, and we continuously rely on science and data to guide decisions. More than 2 million people each day are choosing to fly as our industry relaunches. Science has routinely demonstrated that the air on an airplane is as clean as – if not cleaner than – restaurants, grocery stores and even some hospitals.”
Many travel advisors seem in favor of the travel mask mandate, and are willing to support it as long as travel remains open.
“As an avid ‘mask-wearer’ I may be a bit biased, but I do believe that the CDC should be able to put travel mask mandates in place, if necessary. I completely understand individual rights, but when it comes to the safety of all, I feel that mandates of this magnitude protect the masses…” said SaKeysha Williams, Romance & Luxury Travel Specialist, Key Occasions. “Precautions should certainly be in place, especially for areas with an increased rate of the virus, to help maintain public health and the tourism industry. None of us want to see everything shut down as it did in 2020.”
“While of course nobody wants to wear a mask anymore, if the CDC imposes another mask mandate then I will follow along,” said Cali Stein, Luxury Travel Advisor with EMBARK Collective. “I trust the scientists who are specialists in their field just as I would want them to trust me when it comes to my travel expertise, and if the time comes when we need another mandate then I’m sure there is a very real reason for it.”
“I believe that the CDC should have the authority to mandate instructions that are in the public interest,” said Laurence Pinckney, CEO of Zenbiz Travel, LLC. “Personally, since SARS I have worn a mask on public transportation wherever possible. It is the considerate thing to do especially during the winter and in these COVID times.”
Others would support a return to the travel mask mandate because they belong to high-risk groups.
“As a 65-year-old serving the senior market, I think most of us would be strongly in favor of the CDC having the powers to mandate mask usage,” said Cal Cheney, Travel Advisor at Bucket List Travel And Tours, LLC. “We know we are the most vulnerable, and in general, we seem to have gotten more comfortable wearing masks on a semi-regular basis. So, on one hand, I think it protects our demographics and would give some seasoned travelers more confidence to travel, but on the other hand, it would hurt the travel business due to all of the hype the media would give it and those worry-warts that were afraid to travel before would probably stay home again.”
Travel advisors who’ve traveled internationally recently have also experienced specific airlines’ mask requirements and other countries’ attitudes towards masking, which is generally less contentious than in the United States, such as Green Earth Travel LLC’s Donna Zeigfinger.
“I traveled a lot this summer,” she said. “On Lufthansa flights if you were flying into Germany it was required to wear a mask wherever you were traveling from. Most people did not mind with the exception of one family in front of me. I thought they were being very indignant and nasty. They said they did not carry masks with them. Who goes to a country in this day and age and not be prepared for that? I did relax on my trip a bit and not mask a lot and voila – COVID hit.”
“My trip to South Korea was a telling story. I was sitting next to a lovely couple for 16 hours. Midway through the flight, the man started coughing and was sick the rest of the flight. Because we were both masked I did not catch the virus,” Zeigfinger continued.
“Could that be because I had recently been boosted or because of the mask? Don’t know, but it certainly did not hurt. I also noticed the big difference in the way people took precautions in South Korea versus here in the US,” she explained. “We arrived October 10 and the mask ban for outside was lifted. I noticed most people were still wearing masks – especially indoors (required) – and no one fought about it. My only fear is that this will start mask wars again between the passengers and the flight attendants.”
Some are not in favor of a return to mask mandates, though these range from willing to adhere to it should it be reinstated to adamant opposition.
Autumn Trussell-Murray, owner of Abundant Travel, a Dream Vacations Franchise, is one of the former types of people. “I’m not a fan of mask mandates, however if something as simple as wearing a mask keeps the world open, then I’ll wear it. I still keep one in my purse or bag when I travel and advise my clients to do the same because you simply never know when you’ll need one when traveling in different destinations.”
Claire Schoeder CTC, Luxury Travel Advisor echoes the above statement, but goes further to say that masking during travel should remain a personal choice. “I don’t think the mask mandate should be reinstated. Nor do I think the CDC should be able to mandate masks again. I often wear one while traveling, especially in crowded areas of airports, boarding and leaving a plane and embarking and disembarking cruise ships. Other passengers do the same. At this point it is, and should continue to be, a personal choice.”
Others go further, calling the appeal “reckless.”
“The decision by the Department of Justice to fight to reinstate the mask mandate is not medically indicated and it contradicts President Biden’s declaration in September that the pandemic is over,” said Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue, the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services and a member of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board at the U.S. Department of Commerce. “It is a reckless, unnecessary action that will spread traveler fear and uncertainty further damaging an industry badly ravaged by the pandemic.”
Back when the mask mandate had ended in April 2021, the USTOA’s executive vice president Tori Emerson Barnes, had praised the end of the mandate as a step towards normalcy: “”The current decision to halt enforcement of the federal mask mandate effectively returns the choice of mask usage on planes and other forms of public transportation to travelers and travel industry workers, a further step toward endemic management of COVID.”
The Bottom Line
There are a lot of different opinions about the current appeal to end the ban on federal travel mask mandates, though many travel advisors are willing to be supportive, as long as it is deemed medically necessary and travel remains safe and open, while other members of the industry remain against it, certain that it is a step backwards for the industry.
It remains to be seen whether or not the ban will be overturned with the recent appeal.
For the latest travel news, updates and deals, subscribe to the daily TravelPulse newsletter.