In order to get there, America must "gain control over the virus," Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), said Tuesday during a Senate subcommittee hearing on the safe return of air travel.
"Our economic recovery, as much or more than any other industry, is tied to continued success in vaccination and widespread participation in effective public health measures," Nelson said in prepared remarks.
One of her key requests was for Congress and the Biden administration to properly adjust international travel restrictions.
"With domestic demand recovering, we particularly need leadership from Congress and the Administration to help safely restore international travel," Nelson said. "A broad cross section of industry and labor groups have urged that the Administration adopt a data-driven, risk-based roadmap that carefully considers how and when to adjust restrictions."
"In 2020, overseas travel to the U.S. declined by 81%, costing hundreds of billions in losses to the economy," she added. "Simply put, we will never fully rebuild our aviation sector without the return of international travel."
Nelson also urged the CDC to give transportation workers priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine and asked the Transportation Security Administration to extend its mask requirement through Sept. 30. The mandate is currently set to expire on May 11.
"We know from experience that the flying public is ready to adapt to new behaviors when instructions are clear and rules are enforced," Nelson said. "Passengers learned to stop smoking, pack minimal fluids in their carry ons and turn off cell phones for engine start and climb. They can readily adjust to wearing a mask if federal agencies clearly and repeatedly define both expectations and the penalties for non-compliance."
Nelson also asked for minimized food and beverage service, maximized onboard ventilation and filtration systems and for the mitigation of unruly passengers. She also said the AFA encourages "federal agency and industry partners to work together on cleaning, disinfecting and sanitation standards that meet best practices for addressing COVID-19."