U.S. will not immediately lift mask rules in air, public transit

People wearing protective masks walk by a man not wearing a mask over his nose under the subway in the Brownsville section of the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., May 3, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

WASHINGTON, May 13 (Reuters) - The Biden administration's requirements that people wear masks on U.S. airplanes, public transport, airports and ride-hailing vehicles are not expected to be lifted anytime soon, despite an easing in the rules for mask-wearing elsewhere.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Thursday that it was easing its guidance for fully vaccinated people, saying they do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places.

But it said workers and travelers should still follow federal requirements to wear masks in transit and in airports and train stations.

There are no requirements that passengers get vaccinated to use transit systems and the Biden administration has opposed the idea of making vaccine passports mandatory.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on April 30 extended face mask requirements across U.S. transportation networks through Sept. 13 to address the spread of COVID-19. TSA says transportation system operators have reported almost 2,000 passengers for refusing to wear a face mask since requirements took effect Feb 1.

A TSA spokeswoman said Thursday "we will continue to work closely with the CDC to evaluate the need for these directives."

Airlines for America, a trade group, said U.S. airlines "will enforce the requirement on flights as long as the federal mandate is in place."

Earlier this month, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said airlines have referred 1,300 unruly-passenger reports since February, with most related to not wearing masks, as the agency takes a tough enforcement line and issues hefty fines for noncompliance.

The FAA said Thursday its "zero-tolerance policy toward unruly passengers will remain in effect at least as long as the TSA/CDC face mask mandate is in effect."

Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International President Sara Nelson, representing nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, noted aircraft cabins are "an enclosed, pressurized, and increasingly crowded space as people return to the sky in fewer and smaller airplanes."

She added that "rules for aviation safety are harmonized around the world, and we must have credibility in the safety of flight if the U.S. aviation industry is to regain access to the rest of the world and fully recover."

Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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