TSA extends mask mandate for planes and public transportation until September

WASHINGTON — Passengers on airplanes, buses and railroads in the U.S. will have to keep wearing masks to guard against the spread of COVID-19 as federal officials extended a mandate that was set to expire within days through the busy summer travel season.

The Transportation Security Administration on Friday announced it was extending the mandate through Sept. 13. The move is in step with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which still advises face coverings to limit the spread of the coronavirus in crowded indoor spaces, even for people who have been vaccinated.

“The federal mask requirement throughout the transportation system seeks to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation,” Darby LaJoye, the TSA’s acting administrator, said in a press release. “Right now, about half of all adults have at least one vaccination shot and masks remain an important tool in defeating this pandemic.”

The mask mandate, which went into effect Feb. 1 and had been set to expire May 11, is a signature of President Joe Biden’s administration. Agencies under former President Donald Trump had recommended masks, but there was no requirement. The mandate, unpopular with some Americans, has at times led to civil fines for violators.

The extension was applauded by the Airports Council International-North America trade group and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union.

“Leadership is everything,” Sara Nelson, president of the flight attendants union, said in an emailed statement. “We’ve made tremendous efforts to get the pandemic under control, but we’re not quite there yet. Continuing the TSA enforcement directive for the CDC transportation mask mandate will keep passengers and aviation workers safe.”

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The CDC now says people who have been vaccinated can safely travel within the U.S., but suggests wearing masks and taking other precautions.

Biden on Tuesday announced relaxed guidelines that would allow people who are vaccinated to not wear masks in outdoor settings with large crowds, but said masks should still be used in some indoor conditions.

The TSA rule doesn’t apply to those under the age of 2 or with certain disabilities, the agency said. People who violate the requirement can be fined $250. Penalties rise to $1,500 for repeat violators.

The Federal Aviation Administration has sought fines above $10,000 in several mask-related cases under federal laws requiring passengers to follow the instructions of flight crews and barring assaults on crews.