MIAMI – On Thursday, President Biden signed an Executive Order requiring passengers to wear face coverings during interstate travel. This Biden administration policy is in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s refusal to enforce such a mandate.

In Spring 2020, US carriers announced the enforcement of mask policies on board. These policies were broadened and strengthened during the summer to include gate and lobby areas. However, without federal policies and guidance, airlines were left the solitary task of determining appropriate repercussions for non-compliant passengers.   

Reports soon emerged of passengers taunting Flight Attendants and other frontline workers, in some cases threatening or exhibiting violent behavior. One such incident, captured on film last October, depicts a brawl that erupted on a Spirit Airlines flight after it arrived in San Juan. Mask compliance was the root of the conflict.

American Airlines Boeing 787-8 Departing LAX | Photo: Luca Flores (

FAA Initially Lacked Authority

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Steve Dickinson signed an order adopting tougher penalties on such unruly passengers earlier this month. Despite this, the FAA still lacked the regulatory authority to enforce mask compliance itself.

The White House’s new executive order directs relevant federal agencies, including the FAA, to immediately take action to require masks to be worn for travel.

LAX. Photo: Luca Flores

Airline Union Support

The president’s “nationwide approach to crushing the virus” was welcomed by Sara Nelson, the President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), whose union represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, including Mesa, United, and others.

In a statement released on the AFA’s website, Nelson went on to say; “The Biden Administration is demonstrating in their first days that combatting COVID-19 is the priority and essential to our health and economic stability. We look forward to working with the President and his administration on a fulsome plan to address COVID health and safety in aviation including masks, testing, contact tracing, limit contact in onboard service, robust cleaning procedures, and more.”

“I 100% feel like President Biden’s mask mandates help me do my job,” said one flight attendant who remains anonymous due to United’s press policies. “Everyone has the right to a safe environment, and wearing a mask helps to ensure that. I appreciate the federal government having my back.”  

Featured image: United Airlines. Photo: Brandon Farris