The Transportation Security Administration on Tuesday extended a federal requirement that travelers wear masks on commercial flights, buses and trains through Jan. 18.
The measure is the latest sign of persistent concerns within the federal government about the spread of Covid-19. Airlines including Southwest and Spirit have warned about a drop in bookings and higher cancellations, trends they blamed on the fast-spreading delta variant of the coronavirus.
“The purpose of TSA’s mask directive is to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation,” the agency said in a statement.
The current mask rules, aimed to curb the spread of the virus, were extended this spring through Sept. 13.
Officials briefed airlines on Tuesday about the plan, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Transportation Security Administration declined to comment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t immediately comment.
The extension covers traditionally busy periods for air travel such as the Thanksgiving and December holidays.
Airline executives say most passengers comply with the mask requirements. However, the vast majority of reports of unruly travelers this year are tied to travelers who allegedly refuse to wear masks.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it has received 3,889 unruly passenger reports this year through Monday, nearly 74% of them related to violations of the mask mandate.
The Association of Flight Attendants, the labor union for about 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, said the extension “will help tremendously” to keep travelers and staff safe.
“While vaccination has been key to the increased air travel demand, the lagging vaccination rates and rise of the Delta variant has caused cases to skyrocket again – threatening lives, continued virus mutation, and recovery from this pandemic,” said AFA’s international president, Sara Nelson, said in a statement.