Democratic lawmakers call for federal action to require masks on planes

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JetBlue and Frontier are requiring passengers to wear face coverings.

As images surface of crowded planes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Democratic lawmakers are calling for federal action to mandate that all air travelers wear masks.

Currently, it is up to the airlines themselves to decide to require masks, and although most have made it a requirement for crew members, JetBlue and Frontier are the only U.S. airlines to announce they will require passengers to wear face coverings.

On Wednesday, Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent a letter to Department of Transportation (DOT) Sec. Elaine Chao and Health and Human Services (HHS) Sec. Alex Azar urging them to “immediately issue a rule requiring face masks for all individuals engaged in air travel.”

“In the absence of federal action, different airlines and airports have adopted conflicting policies that will undermine overall public health if they are not unified around a single, strong standard,” the lawmakers wrote.

The largest flight attendant union in the U.S., the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, sent a similar letter last week to the DOT and HHS.

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“From the airport door to the airplane door, on the airplane, and then back out through the airport, we want people wearing face coverings in all those areas,” Sara Nelson, both a current flight attendant and president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, told ABC News. “That is what is recommended by the CDC to the general public when they are out in public, and that is exactly what should be happening in our airports and on our airplanes to help contain the spread of the virus.”

HHS did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment and the DOT directed ABC News to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

On Monday, the FAA said in a statement to ABC News that it is “not a public health agency,” but that it has been lending its aviation safety expertise to federal public health authorities.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) believes a mask requirement is “well within the FAA’s jurisdiction” and spoke with FAA Administrator Dickson Wednesday to voice his concerns.

“The administrator appreciated the opportunity to speak with Chairman DeFazio and shares his concerns about the importance of protecting the health and safety of passengers and crews,” the FAA said in a statement. “The FAA is working with air carriers to ensure they have processes in place for addressing public health risks for their crews and passengers.”

President Donald Trump said it sounded “like a good idea” on Tuesday when asked if masks were something we would consider “rolling out for all flights.”

The CDC recommends that everyone wear a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth when in the community setting, “including during travel if they must travel.”

What to know about coronavirus:

  • How it started and how to protect yourself: Coronavirus explained
  • What to do if you have symptoms: Coronavirus symptoms
  • Tracking the spread in the U.S. and worldwide: Coronavirus map