On April 22, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA) led 15 of their colleagues on introduction of the Healthy Flights Act of 2021. This legislation would issue a set of uniform requirements during pandemics to help keep passengers and airline and airport workers healthy by minimizing transmission of viruses through the U.S. aviation system. In addition, the Healthy Flights Act would help prepare U.S. aviation stakeholders for future pandemics and epidemics through the development of a national preparedness plan to define the aviation system’s response to outbreaks and by advancing scientific research.
Specifically, the bill:
- Clarifies the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) authority to impose any requirements on air travel necessary to protect the health and safety of airline workers and passengers during public health emergencies;
- Requires passengers to wear masks on board aircraft and within airports, and also requires issuance of masks and other protective equipment to airline employees and certain FAA employees (including air traffic controllers and aviation safety inspectors), during any public health emergency that is caused by a respiratory disease;
- Requires the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to develop a National Aviation Preparedness Plan to respond to epidemics or pandemics;
- Calls for a study on transmission of infectious diseases in airplane cabins;
- Creates an FAA Center of Excellence on Infectious Disease Response and Prevention in Aviation to advise the FAA Administrator on infectious diseases and air travel; and
- Amends airline passenger briefing requirements to enumerate new federal guidelines during pandemics and subsequent penalties for non-compliance.
“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed serious flaws in the federal government’s preparedness to keep airline and airport workers and travelers safe amid a public health emergency. And with tens of millions of people yet to be vaccinated, Congress still can and must do more to protect those on the frontlines of our aviation system from future pandemics like COVID-19,” Chair DeFazio said. “We need the Healthy Flights Act. It provides clear, consistent rules and guidelines that give flight and cabin crews the authority they need to keep passengers safe, mitigate the spread of this insidious disease, and help our country prepare for future pandemics. In the meantime, the Biden administration must extend the federal mask mandate while this bill moves through Congress.”
“Keeping the traveling public and frontline aviation workers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic is even more difficult because of the lack of coordinated federal leadership,” Chair Larsen said. “This bill includes common sense measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in air travel, ensure the safety of passengers and aviation workers, and better prepare the U.S. aviation industry for public health crises.”
In addition to DeFazio and Larsen, original cosponsors of the Healthy Flights Act of 2021 include: Representatives Julia Brownley (D-CA), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), John Garamendi (D-CA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Kaiali’i (Kai) Kahele (D-HI), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Marie Newman (D-IL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Marilyn Strickland (D-WA), Dina Titus (D-NV) and Frederica Wilson (D-FL).
The Healthy Flights Act of 2021 also has broad support from those who work in the U.S. aviation system:
“Airport executives appreciate Chair DeFazio’s continued efforts to address the health and safety of air passengers and aviation workers through the Healthy Flights Act,” American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) President and CEO Todd Hauptli said. “This initiative will help build on important efforts airports, airlines, and our federal partners have undertaken over the past year to protect the traveling public and employees and ensure better planning, coordination, and consistency moving forward.”
“U.S. airports greatly appreciate the continued work in Congress to address the concerns of passengers and airports during this global pandemic, and we thank Chair DeFazio for his leadership in spearheading these efforts,” Kevin M. Burke, President & CEO, Airports Council International – North America, said. “Airports continue to work diligently to provide for the health, safety, and security of the traveling public and airport workers. As we look to the future of air travel and prepare for the return of more travelers, the development of a national aviation preparedness plan and continuation of the mask mandate at airports will be very helpful for ensuring the health and safety of the traveling public as our airports continue to address the challenges they are faced with in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The leadership demonstrated by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio is exactly what’s needed to further help stop the spread of COVID-19 and continue to speed up the aviation industry’s economic recovery,” Capt. Joe DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) said. “Mandating a healthy flying environment to protect the traveling public will help restore public confidence in air travel and allow crewmembers to welcome passengers back aboard our planes. ALPA applauds the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee under Chair DeFazio’s leadership for its dedication to protecting the health and safety of airline workers and passengers, as well as its continued focus on reducing the spread of COVID-19 through the U.S. aviation system.”
“We want to thank Chair DeFazio for reintroducing the Healthy Flights Act and applaud his persistence,” Allied Pilots Association (APA) President Capt. Eric Ferguson said. “APA fully supports the establishment of uniform federal standards to protect airline workers and passengers in public health emergencies. One set of standards should apply to all airlines, airports, and related operations, and we urge Congress to approve the Healthy Flights Act promptly for the good of all concerned.”
“If we’ve learned anything over the last year, it’s that we can’t afford to waste time in implementing essential safety protocols to protect passengers and crew from a pandemic,” Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, representing nearly 50,000 Flight Attendants at 17 airlines, said. “We must prepare our federal response for the next pandemic by establishing a national aviation preparedness plan and creating an FAA Center of Excellence on Infectious Disease Response and Prevention in Aviation to advise the FAA Administrator on infectious diseases and air travel. Our place in worldwide aviation depends upon this action.”
“APFA applauds the reintroduction of the Healthy Flights Act that not only mandates safety policies for passengers in this pandemic, but also protects Flight Attendants in our workplace. To combat the virus and maintain a healthy industry, we must work collectively through common-sense policies. An industry-wide federal mask mandate is obvious. Furthermore, the FAA must have the ability to act swiftly in order to mitigate any public health emergency. We applaud Chair DeFazio for continuing to emphasize these basic safety precautions that will continue to keep air travelers safe, both now and in the future. Through this legislation, we have the potential to ensure that we are prepared for a future crisis or even prevent one from devastating our industry again,” Julie Hedrick, National President, Association of Professional Flight Attendants, representing 24,000+ Flight Attendants at American Airlines, said.
The Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations applauds Chairs DeFazio and Larsen for their leadership,” Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations (CAPA) President Captain Larry Rooney said. “Having a common sense, predictable and enforceable set of standards to protect the health safety of our passengers and flight crews will be a critical component to ensure the airline industry’s recovery and restore our passenger’s confidence in air travel. We look forward to working with Chairs DeFazio and Larsen in seeing that this legislation is enacted into law.”
“Pilots, flight attendants, and tens of thousands of other aviation workers have been at the forefront of this pandemic for over a year,” Capt. David Borune, Director, Airline Division, International Brotherhood of Teamsters said. “The basic protections extended to them in the Healthy Flights Act will help them, and the traveling public, stay safe throughout their travels. I strongly support this important legislation and urge its swift passage.”
“PASS has been working with the FAA throughout this national emergency to protect the employees we represent,” Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS) National President Mike Perrone said. “But to have codified into law that the agency needs to provide workers with face coverings, gloves and other PPE during a pandemic sets a standard that applies industry-wide.”
“Safety is essential to the integrity of our aviation system and a hallmark of the U.S. aviation industry. The Healthy Flights Act will ensure that the FAA has the tools necessary to combat health crises, today and in the future,” Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) said. “The legislation both clarifies the FAA’s authority to impose health and safety requirements, and ensures the agency is well-positioned to keep frontline workers and passengers safe during any future health emergencies.”
“Over the past year, as they risked their lives to keep America moving during this awful pandemic, TWU members have continued to sound the alarm about the importance of creating a safe workplace for flight attendants, ground workers, mechanics, and other airline workers,” John Samuelsen, International President, Transport Workers Union of America said. “The TWU strongly endorses the Healthy Flights Act, which will go a long way toward protecting those workers, and we thank Chair DeFazio for continuing to fight on our behalf.”