TSA provides clarification on new mask mandate and security directive

Confused about the Transportation Security Administration’s new mask mandate and transportation?

TSA’s David Cooper joined the United Motorcoach Association Town Hall on Feb. 4 to provide an update on the flurry of activity related to the new mask mandate.

“I don’t think anybody is as used to getting as many emails from me as they have the last few weekends. There’s been a lot of action going on,” said Cooper, TSA’s Industry Engagement Manager.

Mask mandate

The decree is tied to President Joe Biden’s Jan. 21 executive order promoting safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during domestic and international travel. In response, the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security determined the national emergency opened up TSA’s authority to issue a security directive.

David Cooper

The TSA’s 100-day order, which references the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask-wearing rule, became effective Feb. 1 and expires May 11.

While charter operations, in general, are not covered in the TSA directive, UMA cautions operators to scrutinize certain commitments — such as regularly scheduled commuter service, casino shuttles, service to aggregators (such as Flix, OurBus), emergency Amtrak service and providing service to other scheduled service operations.

Bus and motorcoach companies must provide written confirmation of receipt of the TSA Security Directive by emailing TSA at TSA-Surface@tsa.dhs.gov immediately. Company information must be included, Cooper said.

Guidance for operators

Cooper provided guidance on how the directive came to be, who it applies to, and what must be enforced. The directive covers scheduled fixed-route service only. It requires owner-operators to notify passengers that there is a mask mandate. Federal law now requires masks must be worn in public transportation as defined by the security directive.

In general, the directive (1582/84-21-01) applies to all public conveyances, including intercity bus services (over-the-road buses) operating in fixed-route service. Specific applications can be found in 49 CFR 1582.1(a); 49 CFR 1584.1; 49 CFR 1500.3. It is important that bus and motorcoach operators read these descriptions carefully to determine how the directive applies to their individual companies.

“It’s important to know that it’s for scheduled fixed-route service only,” Cooper said. “So, if you’re doing a private charter, if you’re doing a private contract to move employees, the security directive does not apply to you.”

Civil penalties

There are civil penalties that TSA has the authority to use against individuals refusing to wear a mask on public transportation. The intent is just to get people to wear a mask to prevent transportation workers and others on public transportation from getting sick with COVID-19, he said.

Owner-operators must establish procedures to manage situations with persons who refuse to comply with the requirement to wear a mask. Cooper said these rules are similar to dealing with a disruptive passenger. They include preventing the person from boarding, making best efforts to disembark the individual as soon as practicable without putting them in danger. The last is making best efforts to remove the individual from the transportation hub or facility.

TSA has provided a sample sign operators can use to inform riders about the requirement for wearing masks. At tsa.gov/coronavirus, there is a link for industry resources. This includes a one-page flyer that can serve as a notification sign for passengers.

“We created that one-page flyer notification to give you something that you could use to comply with the notification requirement in the security directive, but also a tool to give our inspectors when they do come out and talk to the operator,” Cooper said.

Preventing sickness

He added the intent of the directive is to ensure people wear a mask, not to pursue penalties.

“This is to prevent our transportation workers from getting sick and to prevent other folks in public transportation from getting sick,” Cooper said.

If a passenger’s refusal to wear a mask rises to a significant security concern, such as serious threats and assaults, then the owner-operator must report the incident to the TSA operation center.

“Our inspectors will work with the operator to make sure that they have everything they need, and that they’re doing those things that are in the security directive,” Cooper said. “If something is reported to the operation center, our inspectors will come out to talk to that operator, and basically do the investigation to get any additional information to consider pursuing against a passenger on the civil penalty side.”

Alternative measures

If owner/operators determine alternative measures are necessary due to medical reasons, they may submit to TSA for approval. As an example, if owner/operators determine someone has a valid medical reason for not wearing an approved mask, then they could consider blocking off a number of rows to maintain physical distancing between those wearing masks and those that are not. That may include putting someone without a mask toward the back of the bus or in a separate designated area.


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