Senators Edward J. Markey and Richard Blumenthal, members of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, on Tuesday renewed their call for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to immediately issue nationwide rules to protect the health and safety of the flying public. In a letter to both agencies, the senators demanded rules to require face masks for air travelers, ensure frontline crewmembers are provided with personal protective equipment, support social distancing, and mandate strong cleaning protocols for aircraft.
“Although airlines and airports are acting with the best of intentions, air travel is an inherently interstate and international issue that demands stronger leadership from the federal government,” the letter says. “We believe the safety of the flying public requires consistent and enforceable rules from your agencies, and we urge you to act without further delay.”
In April, Senators Markey and Blumenthal previously expressed concern that, absent federal leadership, a patchwork of conflicting policies created by individual airlines and airports would endanger the health of travelers and employees as coronavirus (COVID-19) spread. Unfortunately, the senators say, recent reports about haphazard enforcement of airline rules for face masks and social distancing on flights confirm these fears and reinforce the need for urgent federal action to ensure that Americans can fly safely now and when the pandemic subsides.
Senators Markey and Blumenthal have also co-authored legislation that would create a joint task force—advised by aviation, security and public health experts—that will develop recommended requirements, plans and guidelines to ensure safe and healthy air travel during and after the coronavirus pandemic. The recent reports about a lack of enforcement for airline policies underscore the need for this task force; however, the senators say, DOT and HHS need not wait for the senators’ bill to become law to begin tackling known health risks in air travel.