ALPA Wants FAA To Enact COVID Rules


The FAA says it’s working with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to update guidelines for air carriers on COVID-19 precautions but the head of the nation’s biggest pilots’ union says the current regime isn’t enough. ALPA President Capt. Joe DePete told WOIO in Cleveland that the FAA needs to mandate compliance with CDC recommendations rather than suggest they follow the guidelines. “There are carriers that are doing a good job and there are carriers that are doing not such a great job,” DePete said. “So there is this varying patchwork of compliance or lack thereof and that’s no way to handle a pandemic.” So far 300 ALPA members have contracted the virus and three have died.

The FAA told DePete it is monitoring airline behavior and will step in if necessary. “The FAA will reinforce the importance of airlines heeding CDC guidance and clarify those expectations if needed,” the agency said in letter to DePete that it shared with the TV station. “We also will determine if additional actions are necessary or feasible to motivate compliance.” The current CDC guidelines deal mainly with cleaning the aircraft and dealing with sick passengers. Many airlines require passengers to be masked from the time they reach the check-in counter throughout their journey and Air Canada is going to start checking all passengers for a fever (99.5 degrees) on May 15.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. I predict that the FAA will regulate on medicals where pilots and air traffic controllers have tested positive and/or have been hospitalized and survived the infection. Clinicians are discovering that the virus has a strong impact through the body, from brain to lungs to toes. Will medicals be invalidated grounding pilots and ATC Techs until studies, on the temporary or permanent effects of the virus on the body, are completed, evaluated and regulations implemented? If so, then the Airlines and GA, the whole industry will enter another rough ride.

    • You may be right, Raf, but that’s pretty chilling stuff. Allow me to channel Adam Schiff/ the FAA:

      “You used to be sick; now you’re not. We have no evidence to support an assertion that your health now is compromised, but out of an abundance of caution, we’re going to strip you of your livelihood until/unless we acquire satisfactory evidence that your health is NOT compromised. Check back with us after a few years.”

    • I’m guardedly optimistic the FAA will not take action against the medical certificates of those who’ve recovered from COVID-19. There is a long list of common diseases which have the potential to cause lasting cardiopulmonary damage – dengue fever, tularemia, Q fever, valley fever (endemic where I live). It goes on and on. The FAA has never seen fit to include them in its questionnaire and I doubt the agency is eager to open that can of worms.

  2. Since I have several times expressed my feelings on this virus situation I will only make these comments. The passenger in this picture is wearing a mask that has a vent valve on it( the red colored device). It allows breath exhaled to be vented out unfiltered. Defeats the alleged reason for wearing this. Considering how nasty to businesses some people have been in areas that have reopened with “virus restrictions” I think ALPA is just cutting their own throats with wanting more or getting the FAA involved.

    • It sure would be nice if airlines would start handing out effective masks as part of rolling out a mandate to wear masks. Thus, the conversation with the passenger wearing the virus-vent valve mask is, “nice mask, but it doesn’t meet our requirements, please use this one instead.” A policy where airlines require passengers to bring their own masks will result in a hodgepodge of less effective masks. And, a mask ought to be cheap compared to the price of the fuel required to carry the passenger to their destination.

  3. CDC guidelines are just that…suggested guidelines. Guidelines are not the kind of thing Americans are used to voluntarily complying with. If CDC guidelines means changing the average American’s lifestyle, some will comply, most will not. Covid-19 infections are expanding nationwide. Some epicenters are peaking while others are developing. End result is still 25-35K daily infections.

    Massive testing is required. Only when the infected are known can Covid-19 be eventually contained because resources can be effectively targeted. Until that reality is understood and the power of American manufacturing unleashed on nationwide testing availability, the US is stuck with a one size fits all “CDC Guidelines”. And Americans will not voluntarily stick to those one size fits all guidelines.

    Since nationwide testing is not readily, easily, or even sought, the only way to get a reluctant society to comply with the one size fits all CDC guidelines is get those guidelines enforced under penalty for non-compliance. I don’t blame the ALPA asking for FAA enforcement. Not that I like enforcement threats as a way of life. However, the American public has a demonstrated track record for compliance or non-compliance based on convenience, economics, and trying to figure out from day to day, what is truth and what is fiction regarding the Covid-19 disease. The subject is now so politicized it is hard to get accurate information as it becomes available.

    If airline travel is to open, there will have to be “guidelines” uniform across all airlines, airline routes, and clearly understood by airline employees and passengers alike. Until that happens total chaos from one terminal to another, one airline to another. In my opinion, the only way to get that kind of uniformity in the US will only take place under FAA draconian measures. And that opens another Pandora’s box.

    • Agree. Self Discipline (60/40) vs Forced Discipline (80/20). Say your compliance estimate.

  4. “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin
    There never seems to be a shortage of “useful idiots” clamoring for more laws and rules. Roughly a year ago many were outraged ny the news that China was/is monitoring millions of its citizens by various means and placing “social credits” on their compliance to approved doctrine. Now all of a sudden with the flurry of other proposed the “experts” also advocate “contact tracing”, all for public safety don’t ya know. Careful what you ask for, you just may get it.

  5. I agree with Shadetree.

    The CDC Guidelines are just that – guidelines. The CDC has waffled on masks in the past and talking with 3 friends who are doctors (one was on our regional COVID Response Team) all agree that “requiring” everyone to wear masks all the time is the WRONG move. As a major airline pilot, I have flown almost every week during this shutdown. During the first 6 weeks, no one was required to wear a mask. Some did, most didn’t. From my first hand observation most people were not only wearing the wrong type of face covering, many were wearing them incorrectly- below the nose, not changing or cleaning regularly, not effective against viruses, etc. It also does nothing to promote herd immunity.

    IMHO, the push to mandate masks is nothing more than a PR stunt to make those panic stricken by media hype to feel more comfortable while traveling. I do not recall any effort by ALPA in this area during SARS, MERS, H1N1, or anything when I was traveling on international flights other than to “be careful” in malaria zones. I have been a member of ALPA for almost 3 decades and I strongly believe ALPA’s strong arm tactics to force this issue has more to do with taking advantage of an opportunity against the airlines, than protecting the crews or passengers. It is short-sighted and dangerous to our freedoms as Americans.

    The external temperature scanning that is being advocated and used in some places is also only for show as it can easily be defeated with OTC medications.

    The one area I do agree with the airlines and ALPA is the routine cabin and cockpit cleaning. Some aircraft were do for a deep clean, but I can’t see the airlines ever returning to the quick turns we had if we do this type of disinfecting every leg.

    As Captain, I brief my crew that mask wear is up to them. I also don’t expect them to be the “mask police” in the cabin since there are no guidelines on mask type and there are exceptions on who has to wear and when.

    Mask wear should be left to the discretion of the passengers and crews alike.

  6. It seems to me that COVID-19 prevention isn’t that different from fire prevention, in the context of an airline flight. In both cases, the safety of everyone aboard depends on the behaviour of everyone aboard. Hence, airlines tell me not to pack lithium batteries in checked baggage, and bring it aboard. Airlines tell me not to put fuel for my camping stove in either my checked luggage or my carry-on, so I have to buy it at my destination. Neither of those policies provoke cries of “give me checked batteries or give me death!” It seems quite reasonable to require everyone to wear a mask, and wear it right, as a way of all of us contributing to the health of all of us aboard. The flight attendants who tell me to wear my seatbelt properly can take on the task of telling me to wear my mask properly. The check-in agent (or machine) asks if me if I packed flammables in my checked luggage. This question is “easily defeated” — I can just lie — but still it’s worth asking, because it communicates the policy against packing them, and because it will alert some honest people who made an honest oversight. It seems like it will be equally helpful for the check-in agent to scan my forehead temperature. This is not, in the end, a political question. It is a safety and public health question.

  7. Jim you’re conflating flammable liquids and objects In luggage that potentially can ignite and kill everyone on board with a potentially infected person who might infect others, but certainly not catastrophically in a onboard fire. Hopefully the difference doesn’t require further explanation. In your first post you use the necessity “one size fits all” approach a couple of times as being necessary. Also advocating “required” compliance enforceable with penalties, even to include in your words “draconian” measures. Really? First of all it should be up to the individual airline to decide on a policy for carriage of passengers, not the federal government. If you don’t like their policy you can choose a different mode of transportation. Being a person who is in the age group more susceptible to serious complications, or any age with health issues would obviously merit wearing a proper mask. A healthy younger person not necessarily. However it should be each persons choice if the airline policy allows that. As incredible as it might sound, most people are smart enough to decide on the level of precautions they deem appropriate for themselves. If your wearing a mask you have limited your ability to spread or catch the virus, whether or not another person is covered. Of course if you touch something that an infected person has contaminated then you’re back in the game of potential transmission. What’s next after masks? Require surgical gloves locked at the wrist? Some are calling for I.D. cards that verify a person has been tested and is negative.
    Unfortunately the implications of all this advocacy for federally imposed and enforced regulations under the guise of “public safety” is lost on most people.
    By the way, the airlines are currently mandated by federal law to accept persons who are sick, with a fine line as to their discretion to refuse. Of course the double edged sword is enforcement penalties and litigation in the courtroom lotto where lawyers and the “aggrieved” cash in. Where’s the outcry for public safety there? I

    • Jim D and Jim H are actually different people. Jim D didn’t use the word “draconian”, Jim H did.

  8. I agree with both Shadetree . and Skyhawk D. I still think no one has thought about the possible side effects of wearing a mask (especially a N95) continually while doing anything strenuous (like loading bags in overhead bins) or at cruise altitude. Sooner or later some poor flight attendant is going to pass out breathing continually through one of those things. And if that is a required crew member it will result in a diverted flight since that would be considered an in flight emergency.

    • Thanks for posting that link. After reading it several times I could not find any reference to the issue I posted other than a recommendation to change out the mask if it becomes difficult to breathe in. Nothing on the possible side effects of heavy breathing when doing any strenuous work wearing the mask.

      • Does wearing a mask make it harder to run or cycle?

        It might, says Bryanne Bellovary, a doctoral student researching exercise in extreme environments at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She has studied the effects in athletes of wearing specialized masks that restrict airflow and simulate altitude training.
        “People exercising with a face mask may feel some resistance to breathing, depending on the thickness of the mask material,” she says.
        Thijs Eijsvogels, an assistant professor at Radboud University in the Netherlands who studies heat regulation and breathing in athletes, agrees. “If the mouth and nose are fully covered,” he says, “there may be some limitation to the intake of air, which may raise discomfort and attenuate your running performance.”

  9. I agree that Jim D’s comparison with lithium batteries is a poor analogy to the requirement for wearing a mask while on a commercial flight. A better comparison is the ban on smoking which was enacted to protect passengers and flight crew from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. Mask wearing is similar. The main benefit of wearing a mask is to somewhat reduce the the likelihood of someone who is infectious (and asymptomatic) from spreading illness to others. If the Marlboro man needs to get from Topeka to Butte and wants to smoke or during a pandemic not wear a mask, he should saddle up his horse or F-150 but taking a commercial flight is not just about personal freedom, it is also about our mutual responsibility to each other.

    • While your use of the ban of onboard smoking on first glance appears plausible, it is sophistry. First of all, smoking is a act that “is” in fact known, happening and observed when taking place. Unlike a possible transmission of a virus by an unknown person if in fact one boards an airplane. The latter may not even be known even if it occurs, at least as far as the origin. While it’s somewhat true that the ban on smoking was to prevent the harmful effects of secondhand smoke affecting others, that was not the primary reason, but merely a ancillary reason supported by numerous complaints from non-smokers. Those arguments were amplified at the same time newer aircraft designs had recirculating fans added to the air conditioning systems to help reduce the engine bleed air requirements for maintaining cabin pressurization. The recirc. fans reduced fuel burn as a result, but also made cabin air more stuffy. The main driver in the smoking ban was because of the associated fire hazard and the resulting number of lavatory trash bin fire occurrences. The most tragic was Air Canada Flt.797, June 2, 1983 which caught fire in what is believed to be the aft lav, and 23 passengers were killed. It wasn’t until 1988 that airlines banned smoking on domestic flights of less than 2 hours, and the year 2000 for all domestic and international flights. Again the biggest reason was aircraft safety, but by that time had strong almost universal public support.
      In the issue of mandatory mask use, why shouldn’t it begin at curbside or at least upon entry into the terminal? What allowance shall be permitted for eating the complimentary tablespoon of pretzels while drinking a shot glass of soda? Oh, and since we know that a virus and other germs can be spread by the hands, shouldn’t we mandate required hand sanitation stations at each boarding gate? Of course to be effective and insure full compliance, each station would have to be manned (generically speaking of course) by TSA agents who randomly or for arbitrary reasons could pull people aside for a full body antiseptic scrub down. Knee jerk reactionary mandates are never thought through with any degree of pragmatism, but usually produce unintended consequences worst than what they attempt to solve.

      • Usage of masks likely reduces the spread of disease with no serious downside (People in Asia have been wearing masks on planes for years). Some will not wear masks correctly and even when worn correctly spread will occur but 100% effectiveness is not needed to make it a worthwhile policy. For some this is a very emotionally issue, to me it seems like a small thing to partially protect others during extraordinary times. Of course if one thinks the COVID-19 is hoax than any policy intended to limit its spread will seem unreasonable.

        Oh and smoking onboard aircraft was banned by congress with the express intent of protecting the flying public from second hand smoking according to contemporaneous news reports.

        • I fully agree that wearing masks will be helpful and effective in reducing the spread of anything that can be contagious respiratory wise. What I object to is making it regulatory. I’m in the age bracket that is particularly susceptible to serious complications from this particular virus, so I wear a mask when shopping etc.,that said, I think it should be up to the individual, not the government.
          As for the express reason banning smoking was listed in the legislative bill, Ill stand corrected. But as a pilot for a major airline during that entire timeframe, I can attest that is wasn’t the main reason, nor the reason the airlines and crews were in support of it. The brown stain that trailed the pressurization outflow valve on the fuselage of these aircraft was evidence enough. Eliminating smoking was prudent and valid for all of the reasons given.
          However it is sophistry to try and put a regulatory requirement to wearing a mask with the issue of smoking IMO.
          Guess we’ll have to agree to disagree, at least for now. I do appreciate your worthwhile thoughtful viewpoint however.

          • @Shadetree, you say, “I’m in the age bracket that is particularly susceptible to serious complications from this particular virus, so I wear a mask when shopping etc.” So, you wear a mask to protect yourself from other people, right? What masks are believed effective for is to protect other people from possibly infections but asymptomatic yourself. You should be putting on that mask with a feeling of compassion for your fellow person, that they might stay healthier longer. If you think of the mask as a way to protect yourself, then you will be talking past a lot of other people regarding masks.

  10. Jim: (Insert eye roll here). What does your incoherent comment have to do with a mandated regulation requiring the wearing of protective mask onboard commercial flights, versus the option or voluntary wearing of a mask? Pretty sure you’re off the pavement and into the weeds. Judging from the time stamp on your post one can only guess as to why.