US may require masks at airports for coronavirus prevention

People wear medical masks at John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) out of concern over the coronavirus on January 31, 2020 in New York City. (AFP)

The lead US airport security agency is weighing the possibility of requiring masks or face coverings for passengers who pass through checkpoints, according to a US official and two people familiar with the deliberations.

The move is part of a broader rethinking of how to limit the spread of the new coronavirus during air travel, an effort that could bring some of the most significant changes to the industry since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Travelers passing through US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints will see other changes, including additional barriers to protect security officers, more extensive cleaning regimes and upgraded screening equipment to speed travelers through lines faster, according to current and former US officials and industry experts familiar with the plans.

TSA officers can wear masks at checkpoints but are not required to do so. The agency is considering such a requirement, sources said.

A Boeing 777-346 (ER) operated by Japan Airlines takes off from JFK Airport on August 24, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City. (AFP)

A Boeing 777-346 (ER) operated by Japan Airlines takes off from JFK Airport on August 24, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City. (AFP)

News of potential changes came as the Senate Commerce Committee was set to hold a hearing Wednesday on the state of the aviation industry.

The number of US air travelers plunged by 95 percent in March as lockdowns went into effect across the country to limit the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory ailment caused by the new coronavirus. But with restrictions ending in some states, US officials, airports and airlines are grappling with how air travel must change to operate more safely.

The discussions over possible face mask requirements came after nearly every major US airline said in the past week they will require passengers to wear them onboard flights. The San Diego International Airport and San Francisco International Airport already require face coverings.

Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the country’s largest union for federal workers, said during an online discussion with Democratic lawmakers on Thursday that passengers should be encouraged to wear masks, calling it “a priority.”

TSA has been reviewing the legality of requiring passengers to wear them, as well as reviewing whether it would need to have masks available for passengers, but has not reached a final decision, according to a US official and a source familiar with the matter.

An agency spokeswoman declined to comment on a mandate for passengers, calling it “speculative.”

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:58 - GMT 06:58
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