In the latest air travel news, the U.S. government must decide soon whether to extend its mask mandate for passengers; debate heats up again about putting unruly travelers onto a federal no-fly list; the war on Ukraine could complicate international travel if Russia bans overflights of its territory; entry rules change for trips to Israel, Iceland, Italy and Belgium; international route news from American, Virgin Atlantic, United and Air Canada; Delta enhances its FlyReady digital tool for customers; and San Francisco International adds another COVID testing facility.
As a sharp decline in COVID cases leads more U.S. cities, counties and states to lift their mask mandates, the federal government is facing a big decision in the next couple of weeks: What should it do about its mask mandate for air travelers, who are currently required to wear face coverings on planes and in airports? That mandate is currently in force through March 18, and it is the subject of an increasingly vocal debate. Two months ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an ABC-TV interview that ending the mask mandate for air travel “is really not something we should even be considering” after a couple of airline CEOs argued that it probably wasn’t necessary. He also suggested that a vaccine mandate for domestic flights might be appropriate. But that was before the omicron surge peaked and declined, and mask mandates started to disappear right and left. Last summer, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced a bill that would force the Biden administration to drop the airline mask mandate, and last week he said in a TV interview he hopes to force a vote on the stalled legislation. In another development last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and a Texas member of the U.S. House of Representatives filed a lawsuit seeking to force an end to the federal mask requirement for air travel. The federal mandate was imposed by the Transportation Security Administration in early 2021 and has been extended three times.