Former Democratic presidential candidate and current U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is calling on the federal government to provide more oversight of airlines’ safety procedures.
In a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Department of Transportation Administrator Stephen Dickson – triggered by the announcement from American Airlines that it would no longer block the sale of middle seats and would book to capacity – Sanders called for federal requirements to limit the capacity of flights, mandate face coverings for all passengers, limit the capacity of flights and more cleaning amid the coronavirus pandemic.
United Airlines also announced it was no longer blocking middle seats.
Sanders said the decisions “reveals a stunning lack of federal government action to protect passengers, flight attendants, pilots, and other aviation workers,” according to the Washington D.C.-based publication The Hill.
“There is universal agreement among scientists and medical experts that social distancing and mask-wearing are the two most important and effective tools we have to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. Yet across the industry, airline policies on mask-wearing and social distancing have been inconsistent, incomplete, and unenforced,” Sanders wrote. “This is unacceptable and is endangering the health and safety of airline passengers and workers.”
Sanders is not the only person asking for federal intervention.
Association of Flight Attendants Union President Sara Nelson has called on federal officials to make it mandatory for protective face masks for both crew and passengers on all flights.
Nelson voiced her requests in a letter to the secretaries of both the U.S. Transportation Dept. and the Dept. of Health and Human Services departments.
“Since flight attendant ability to practice social distancing is challenging in the aircraft cabin and on most other forms of public transportation, it is essential that we wear masks as often as possible so long as COVID-19 remains a threat to public health,” she said in the letter.
The Trump administration has encouraged the wearing of face masks, but not mandated it.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield testified this week at a Congressional hearing that “there was substantial disappointment with American Airlines.”
“I just hope very much that the CDC or the appropriate agency basically tells these companies that that is unacceptable behavior,” Sanders wrote. “They’re endangering the lives of the American people.”
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