During his flurry of executive orders in his first week in the White House, President Joe Biden signed an EO that mandated face masks be worn on public transportation, including trains, buses, and aircraft. Enforcement of the new policy went into effect this week, and noncompliance can result in some hefty fines.
Biden's executive order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel requires face masks to be worn at airports, as well as traveling on commercial aircraft, trains, public maritime vessels, ferries, and intercity buses.
The order will be enforced by Transportation Security Administration agents and "other federal authorities." "To the extent permitted by law…federal agencies are required to implement additional measures enforcing the provisions of this Order," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states.
"CDC reserves the right to enforce through criminal penalties [but] CDC does not intend to rely primarily on these criminal penalties but instead strongly encourages and anticipates widespread voluntary compliance," the health agency says.
From Feb. 2 to May 11, the Transportation Security Administration is "requiring travelers to wear face masks when they are in airports, bus and rail stations, as well as while on passenger aircraft, public transportation, passenger railroads, and over-the-road buses operating on scheduled fixed-routes." Travelers will also be required to wear a mask at TSA airport screening checkpoints.
The mask mandate applies to "all passengers who appear to be over the age of 2."
TSA agents can request that travelers temporarily lower the mask to verify their identity.
Travelers will be permitted to remove masks while eating or drinking. Those with medical conditions can be exempt, but may be required to show medical documentation.
Passengers who don't comply with the face mask mandate could be "denied entry, boarding, or continued transport."
The TSA released an update on Friday, announcing fines for anyone violating the travel mask mandate. Those who defy the face mask requirement can be hit with a $250 fine, and repeat violators are subject to fines of up to $1,500.
The transportation agency notes, "Based on substantial aggravating or mitigating factors, TSA may seek a sanction amount that falls outside these ranges."
"TSA will fully comply with the President's Executive Orders, CDC guidance and the DHS National Emergency determination to ensure healthy and secure travel across all transportation sectors," Darby LaJoye, senior official performing the duties of the TSA administrator, said. "This will help prevent further spread of COVID-19 and encourage a unified government response. As we continue to experience impacts from this pandemic, we are committed to this measure as the right thing to do for the TSA workforce, for our industry stakeholders and for passengers."