July 30, 2020

Chairs DeFazio and Larsen Lead 18 Members of Congress on New Legislation Requiring Passengers to Wear Masks on Airplanes and in Airports

The Healthy Flights Act of 2020 protects passengers and also ensures pilots, flight attendants, and other airline employees are provided masks and other protective equipment, requires development of a national aviation pandemic preparedness plan, commissions a study on transmission of infectious diseases in airplane cabins, and more

Washington, D.C. — Even though COVID-19 infections continue to surge across the U.S., the Trump administration refuses to issue commonsense requirements to mitigate the spread of the disease, including in air travel. So today, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA) led 18 Members of Congress in the introduction of the Healthy Flights Act of 2020, which will provide a set of uniform requirements to help keep passengers and airline and airport workers healthy by minimizing transmission of the virus through our air transportation system. The Healthy Flights Act also helps prepare U.S. aviation stakeholders for future infectious disease pandemics and epidemics through development of a national preparedness plan to define the aviation system’s response to future outbreaks and by advancing scientific research.

Specifically, the bill:

  • Clarifies the FAA’s authority to impose any requirements on passenger and cargo air travel necessary to protect the health and safety of airline workers and passengers during public health emergencies;
  • Requires that passengers must wear masks on board aircraft and within airports, and also requires issuance of masks and other protective equipment to airline employees and certain FAA employees (including air traffic controllers and aviation safety inspectors), during any public health emergency that is caused by an airborne disease;
  • Mandates the development of a national aviation preparedness plan to respond to epidemics or pandemics;
  • Calls for a study on transmission of infectious diseases in airplane cabins; and
  • Creates an FAA Center of Excellence on Infectious Disease Response and Prevention in Aviation to advise the FAA Administrator on infectious diseases and air travel.

“Covid-19 infections are spreading across this country like wildfire, yet the Trump administration refuses to enact basic public health protections for the tens of thousands of airline passengers who board airplanes each day. The administration has likewise failed to protect airline crews, other customer-facing airline employees, and those who still need to travel at this time. This inaction is a massive failure on the part of the Trump administration, so Congress can and must step up on behalf of those on the frontlines in our aviation system,” Chair DeFazio said. “The Healthy Flights Act provides clear, consistent rules and guidelines that give flight and cabin crews the authority they need to keep passengers safe, mitigate the spread of this insidious disease, and help our country prepare for future pandemics.”

“As Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee, I make air travel safety my top priority,” Chair Larsen said. “Keeping the flying public safe from COVID is even more difficult because of the lack of coordinated federal leadership. This bill includes commonsense measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in air travel, ensure the safety of passengers and frontline aviation workers, and better prepare the U.S. aviation industry for public health crises.”

In addition to DeFazio and Larsen, original cosponsors of the Healthy Flights Act of 2020 include: Reps. Julia Brownley (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), André Carson (D-IN), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC),  Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Sharice Davids (D-KS), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Colin Allred (D-TX), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Steven Cohen (D-TN), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Albio Sires (D-NJ).

The Healthy Flights Act of 2020 also has broad support from those who work in our aviation system.

“I commend Chairman DeFazio for his leadership in introducing the Healthy Flights Act of 2020,” AAAE President and CEO Todd Hauptli said. “Airports and airlines have taken a number of steps to protect the health and safety of their passengers and employees during the coronavirus pandemic. This legislative proposal builds on those efforts and provides meaningful federal guidelines that will help ensure clarity and consistency for travelers across the aviation system.”

“ACI-NA is grateful to Chairman Peter DeFazio for introducing the Healthy Flights Act and support his legislation requiring face coverings for most of the travelers and employees who pass through airports,” said ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin M. Burke. “From the beginning of this pandemic, airports have taken every available step to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the simple act of wearing a mask or other face covering goes a long way to achieving that goal. Chairman DeFazio has consistently been a champion of both airport and aviation issues, and we sincerely appreciate his efforts to assist us during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This bill is designed to ensure the health and safety of passengers and will help restore confidence in the traveling public.”

"Masks are effective in dramatically reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19,” said Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, representing nearly 50,000 Flight Attendants at 19 airlines. “But they are only effective if everyone does their part in properly wearing the masks. This legislation will require masks at airports and on planes - for passengers and crew. The FAA administrator has the authority and duty to protect passenger health and safety. Requiring masks does that and clearly communicates expectations to the traveling public, which also reduces the potential for conflict on planes. Further, the bill calls on the FAA, HHS, DHS, CDC, and stakeholders to develop a national preparedness plan. Our place in worldwide aviation depends upon this action."

“The leadership demonstrated by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio is exactly what’s needed to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and speed up the aviation industry’s economic recovery,” said Capt. Joe DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA). “Mandating a healthy flying environment to protect the traveling public will help restore public confidence in air travel and allow crewmembers to welcome passengers back aboard our planes. It is clear that the current strategy of voluntary compliance and inconsistent implementation of public health standards has not been effective. ALPA applauds the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee under Chairman DeFazio’s leadership for its dedication to protecting the health and safety of airline workers and passengers, as well as its continued focus on reducing the spread of COVID-19 through the U.S. aviation system.”

“Flight Attendants have been looking for Federal leadership since the earliest days of the pandemic. So far, DOT and FAA have been missing in action. That is why the APFA applauds the Healthy Flights Act that not only mandates safety policies for passengers in this pandemic, but also protects Flight Attendants in our workplace. An industry-wide federal mandate that masks be worn inflight—a commonsense safety measure—is frankly long overdue. DOT and FAA have not been the leaders we have needed in this crisis. We applaud Chairman DeFazio for addressing these basic safety precautions that should have been mandated months ago,” said Julie Hedrick, National President, Association of Professional Flight Attendants, representing 27,000+ Flight Attendants at American Airlines.

“TWU members have been on the front lines against COVID-19 from the very beginning. Measures like the kind required in this legislation would ensure flight attendants, ground workers, mechanics, and others have a safe place to work at all times,” said TWU International President John Samuelsen. “Every mode of transportation should have protections like this. The TWU strongly endorses the Healthy Flights Act and we are sincerely grateful for Chairman DeFazio’s leadership on behalf of essential workers.”

 “Safety is and always has been essential to the integrity of the U.S. aviation industry. Air travel cannot and will not return to normal until we know it is safe. By requiring the U.S. Department of Transportation to take steps necessary to protect passengers and workers from communicable diseases, this legislation will play a critical role in ensuring our aviation industry, and the good jobs it creates, can recover and rebound from the impacts of the Coronavirus crisis," said Larry Willis, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD).

Full list of Supporters of the Healthy Flights Act of 2020:

  • American Association of Airport Executives;
  • Airports Council International;
  • Association of Flight Attendants;
  • Air Line Pilots Association;
  • Allied Pilots Association;
  • Association of Professional Flights Attendants;
  • Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations;
  • International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers;
  • Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS), AFL-CIO;
  • Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO; and
  • Transport Workers Union of America

Additional resources: Fact Sheet | Section by Section| Bill Text