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FAA Remains Neutral on Passenger Face Mask Rules

FAA Remains Neutral on Passenger Face Mask Rules
Joe Cortez

Despite the airlines taking a hard stance on flyers wearing face masks during flights, the Federal Aviation Administration will continue to take a neutral stance on the issue. During testimony to Congress, the agency administrator said they would “support” airlines in their efforts.

While airlines continue to crack down on wearing face masks over the nose and mouth during flights, the Federal Aviation Administration won’t make it a mandatory requirement for passengers aboard commercial flights. The vague statement came from testimony FAA administrator Stephen M. Dickson gave before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on June 17, 2020.

“The FAA Will Continue to Support Airlines”

Prior to his opening statement and questions on the Boeing 737 MAX investigation, Dickson took a moment to address the use of passenger face masks. The aviation leader noted that U.S. Department of Transportation policy recommended the use of face masks for passengers.

“Secretary Chao and the Department of Transportation have been clear that passengers should wear face coverings while traveling by air, for their own protection and the protection of those around them,” Dickson noted in his prepared remarks. “Face coverings are especially important in situations where social distancing is not feasible. This comes as a health guideline from the agency responsible for public health, the [Centers for Disease Control].”

However, the administrator came short of creating a mandate for face mask use aboard airplanes. While the CDC recommends everyone wear a cloth face mask “where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” the FAA policy remained that they would support airlines, allowing them to continue to self-regulate.

“As we move through the phases of reopening, the FAA will continue to support airlines and their front-line employees as they implement these CDC guidelines,” Dickson said. “And we will continue to apply our aviation expertise to help lead efforts with other Federal agencies, with industry, and with our international partners to address public health risk in the air transportation system, both internationally and here in the United States.”

“I just don’t get why you wouldn’t want this to be mandatory.”

Senators were quick to question the FAA’s neutral standpoint on the issue of wearing face masks aboard commercial aircraft. When Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) questioned Dickson on making a rule, the administrator deferred to the DOT’s stance.

“As the Secretary [of Transportation] has said, these will not be regulatory mandates, but they will be very specific,” Dickson responded to the question. “And we expect for air carriers and the public to follow those guidelines, as well as the airports. We’re working with the air carriers on this. We’re using their safety management systems, and the data coming out of those systems to monitor their progress.”

“Is this a philosophical thing for you folks?” Schatz fired back against the FAA administrator. “I mean this sincerely: I just don’t get why you wouldn’t want this to be mandatory. I don’t understand why we’re going with the private sector-driven approach, or a voluntary approach, or a federalism approach…It’s the kind of thing you ought to make mandatory if you’ve come to certain conclusions about how to fly safely.”

“With respect to public health, that’s the CDC, and they have responsibility for sectors of transportation,” Dickson replied. “We are acting as a facilitator in that process.”

A passenger waits for service from a Delta Air Lines gate agent at the airport. Photo courtesy: Delta Air Lines

Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) noted during her question time that “enforcement for [face mask] noncompliance has been uneven and difficult.” Like Sen. Schatz, Sinema asked why the FAA is not stepping in to create a face covering rule.

“As Secretary Chao has said, we believe that our space is in aviation safety, and their space [the CDC] is in public health,” Dickson responded. “We have made those standards available to the airlines, and to labor stakeholders and others. I have told them very specifically that I expect them to abide by and enforce those standards.”

“Does the FAA plan to mandate that masks are worn on flights?” Sinema asked in her response. “It sounds like you are recommending this, and you are creating this as an expectation, but there’s no enforcement mechanism.

Dickson’s answer definitively set a neutral stance on face masks on aircraft.

“We do not plan to provide an enforcement specifically on that issue,” Dickson said. “We are reviewing their voluntary safety programs to ensure they are following through.”

In recent days, airlines have come together to strengthen face mask usage policies, and define stiff penalties for noncompliance. Those who do not wear a face covering when boarding and during a flight may be subject to denial of boarding, to going on an airline’s “no fly” list.

View Comments (10)


  1. jficht

    June 18, 2020 at 1:23 pm

    Will the airlines stop serving snacks and drinks? All one has to do is just nurse those snacks and drinks for most of the flight. It also help tp bring some food as that’s what I’ve been doing.

  2. DMIND00

    June 19, 2020 at 4:58 am

    Once again our FAA is letting the public down. They set all kinds of requirements for passengers and airlines. Why do they require seat belts? Because you can die from not wearing one during an airplane crash or even possibly air turbulence. So goes the Coronavirus19. You can catch it on a plane from another passenger and your could die. We have had over 120,000 people die from this. How does the FAA think this came to the USA and spread. It was from passengers traveling on the airlines without masks. how many more people have to die. How sad. Just like the 737 MAX they stick their head in the sand. Just like secure cabin doors. Our FAA has cost us trillions of dollars because of their lack of placing known requirements that would save lives. I do not trust the FAA. They are a reactionary agency. Not a protective agency. They are not a leader. It is their job to protect the flying public and airline employees from any unsafe know conditions. Cornavirus19 is a real threat to the flying public and its time for the FAA to do their job and require face masks for all on the planes. People do not want to die because of the few who do not want to wear face masks. It is those who may be A symptomatic who do not have masks that will sicken the whole plane because most people do not have eye coverings. It is to keep the person who has this from breathing their germs on others. As stated the other day by one of our Senators. “I just don’t understand why you would not make this mandatory”


    June 19, 2020 at 6:03 am

    At last, a government agency isn’t caving in to the flight attendant unions that are behind the representatives’ demands for this.

  4. WillTravel4Food


    June 19, 2020 at 6:37 am

    The Administrator made it quite clear, This is the CDC’s space. CDC has the authority to mandate face masks. DOT has other responsibilities and authorities that do not include public health. The Senators should be asking the CDC why they’re not mandating face masks.

  5. caljn

    June 19, 2020 at 7:00 am

    The chaos of these past months are an indication of government small enough to be drowned in the bathtub. Is this what we want?

  6. Alex_I

    June 19, 2020 at 2:41 pm

    From the legal standpoint DOT position is very solid. Note that even CDC cannot require masks either or even make vaccination mandatory.
    If someone has a concern, I suggest getting N99 or N100 respirator and wearing it on the plane. This would protect yourself much better then relying on ill-fitted masks made from questionable materials.

  7. Hawkeyefan

    June 19, 2020 at 8:15 pm

    Masks are only proven effective in combination with distancing, which does not happen on planes. So accordingly, please stop the mask shaming madness please.

  8. FEasy

    June 28, 2020 at 2:44 pm

    Simple masks reduce infection risks for people in front of you. However, they vent towards the side.

    I wear a maks out of courtesy, but I have no illusion it protects someone I’m sitting next to for an extended period of time.

  9. OSUPatrick

    July 2, 2020 at 9:33 pm

    TSA Is not here to give such a directive. Such an order from the TSA would take a long time to approve, there would mostlikley need to be definitive proof for such a rule/law. These guys work in a different level of detail than most.

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