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Airlines call on White House to lift mask mandate on travel

In a letter to President Joe Biden, the CEOs of several major airlines said "now is the time" to lift mask mandates and other Covid-19 restrictions for travelers.

The CEOs of several major airlines and cargo carriers are asking the White House to lift Covid-19 precautions for travelers — including mask mandates.

In a letter to President Joe Biden, Airlines for America, a trade group, wrote: "The high level of immunity in the U.S., availability of high-quality masks for those who wish to use them, hospital-grade cabin air, widespread vaccine availability and newly available therapeutics provide a strong foundation for the Administration to lift the mask mandate and predeparture testing requirements. We urge you to do so now.

"We are requesting this action not only for the benefit of the traveling public, but also for the thousands of airline employees charged with enforcing a patchwork of now-outdated regulations implemented in response to COVID-19," read Wednesday's letter, which was signed by the heads of 10 airlines, including American, Delta and United.

The Transportation Security Administration announced last month that it was extending the mask mandate on public transportation until April 18.

Frustration over mask requirements on airplanes has contributed to violent outbursts by some passengers who have refused to abide by the rules. The Federal Aviation Administration's tracker says there have been 961 reports of unruly behavior on planes this year, 635 of which involved masks. Since the coronavirus pandemic started, there have been over 4,000 reports of incidents involving masks, the data show.

The number of Covid-19 cases across the country has fallen by almost 24 percent and the number of deaths has fallen by 66 percent over the past two weeks, even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has loosened its guidelines on masks.

In the letter, the CEOs said their industry had supported the CDC's guidelines and "leaned into science at every turn."

"At the outset, we voluntarily implemented policies and procedures — mandating face coverings; requiring passenger health acknowledgements and contact tracing information; and enhancing cleaning protocols — to form a multi-layered approach to mitigate risk and prioritize the wellbeing of passengers and employees," they wrote.

They contended, however, that "much has changed since these measures were imposed and they no longer make sense in the current public health context."

"People are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do," they wrote.

The White House and the Transportation Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.