If England is any indicator, it may be a long time before travelers can fly without masks, even once mandatory mask requirements are lifted. Even with the lifting of a national mask law, airlines have not indicated their mask policy will not change. Will the same be true in the USA?
Airlines Will Not Yet Loosen Mask Rules In England Despite Government Policy Change
In an address to the nation yesterday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that July 19th will be “Freedom Day” in which most pandemic-related restrictions are lifted, at least in England. That includes obligatory masks on subways, trains, airports, and airplanes.
Budget carrier Ryanair, the largest airline in Europe, said it has no plans to loosen its mask rules after July 19th. Nor does EasyJet.
Both airlines made masks compulsory prior to the government mandating it. An EasyJet spokesperson told Paddle Your Own Kanoo:
“We continue to be guided by our inhouse medical adviser and a number of key industry governing bodies that airlines follow including the WHO, ICAO (which provides guidance to the Civil Aviation Authorities), EASA, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and Public Health authorities across Europe and at present their guidance around the wearing of masks onboard remains unchanged.
“At present, there are no changes to easyJet’s onboard mask policy and we will continue to keep this under review.”
British Airways said its masks“policies under constant review” but offered no indication if it would loosen requirements.
Virgin Atlantic is “carefully reviewing” policy but has also not announced any change to its onboard mask policy.
“The health and safety of our customers and crew remains Virgin Atlantic’s number one priority, which is why we are carefully reviewing our policy in relation to face coverings on board our flights post 19th July.
“We’re committed to supporting our customers and crew and will ensure any changes to our policy are communicated accordingly. Currently, all customers and crew are required to wear their masks for the duration of the flight.”
There’s a complicating factor as well, namely that most flights are not domestic English flights or even flights within the United Kingdom. When British Airways flies to Germany or France or Italy it must abide not only by British health restrictions, but by those of the country they are serving. That typically means if there are competing policies, the most restrictive policy applies. Thus, for practical purposes even if British Airways suddenly decided to ditch its mask requirement, that would only apply on domestic flights.
Will We See The Same In The USA?
The domestic network in the USA is far more vast and thus a lifting of the federal mask mandate, set to expire on September 13th, would have a far greater effect on travel, at least potentially.
But will U.S. airlines adapt a similar approach? Airlines won’t say–the question is far too tentative, but it merits mentioning that all U.S. airlines made masks mandatory before the federal mask mandate. It is not only conceivable, but likely that many–if not all–will continue this policy at least temporarily even when no longer compelled to.
That’s a very different question on whether this is the right approach (my answer is no, that masks coupled with the reduction in service onboard has greatly fueled the increase in passenger misbehavior).
Don’t expect airlines to lift their mask requirements even when masks no longer fall under government mandate. If England is any indicator, there will be a lag between government policy and airline policy when it comes to face coverings.
I’m not sure I agree with you Matt…at least not fully. People hate wearing the masks and the airlines know this. At the behest of their unions, they begged for the federal mandate to back up their policies which were fairly unpopular even before so many people have been vaccinated. It’s even more unpopular now, which is why they REALLY begged for the extension. I strongly suspect that the moment the mandate is lifted, there will be at least one carrier who drops their policy. Whoever it is will immediately become the most sought-after carrier for frequent/business travelers. I also suspect (but not quite as strongly) that whoever it is will raise fares as well, perhaps significantly. I know many people in my line of work that are sitting out non-critical business travel until the masks go away, and they’ll book with whoever allows them the option.
If/when that happens, I think most other carriers will quickly fall in line. We saw this happen with big retailers back in May. Some of the most covid-conscious (or covid-paranoid…depending on your view) retailers like Trader Joes, Costco, etc. that required masks long before they were mandated were among the first to drop them. Many other retailers initially said they were keeping their mandates but flipped within a week. Hotels too. In fact, business in all sectors really took off nationally once the masks came off.
I think some people just don’t understand how many people truly despise the masks, especially in the post-vaccine world. I know some people predicted/hoped for a “new normal” of wide-scale mask usage, but I just don’t see it.
I hope you are correct!
To present an different view, I am REALLY OK with wearing a mask, and have not begged for anything in my life…….. believe I am not the only one :>)
And you can certainly continue to wear a mask. I don’t think that anyone is proposing taking that right away from you. The issue is that there are a great many people who do NOT want to wear masks, particularly people who are vaccinated. It so happens (as evidenced by the current makeup of passengers on most flights today) that these people tend to be frequent and/or business travelers that are considerably more profitable to the airlines. Right now, these people are largely sitting our air travel and are unlikely to return in large numbers until the ‘mandate’ is gone.
But don’t take my word for it, check it out yourself. You’ll find that F class fares make up less than 30% of the front cabins on most DL, AA, or UL flights. On my last DL flight from DTW to LAS, I saw SILVER medallions upgraded to First…on a Friday flight. That’s just unheard of.
People can continue to wear masks. They can wear two or three if they wish, plus face shields, goggles, and gloves if it makes them feel better. The real problem is that there is a mandate in place for an increasingly irritated public to wear completely ineffective costumes with dubious scientific benefit (we aren’t talking about clinical respirator masks here…any old piece of cotton will do) so that the flight attendant unions can bargain for money at contract time because they are playing mask police. Sooner or later, the pressure will build to the point that the mandate is dropped, if for nothing else then this is not the issue the administration wants to take in to next year’s elections. My money is on allowing it to end in September, though that could change if a skeptical court takes a challenge case (see the recent SCOTUS decision on the CDC eviction regulation).
I will be swift for domestic once the Feds lift.
Intl travel doesn’t seem to have the incidents…so having mixed guidance there should be fine if there are other countries to comply with.
UK/US could be the first no mask intl corridor.
@Greg – That’s an interesting idea and something I hadn’t thought of. I think a US/UK maskless corridor would be very popular, and whichever airlines participated in it could pretty much name their price (especially for bus. class). With UK being out of the chokehold of EU regulations, I could see it happening, although there would be a lot of pressure from BA against allowing it since they’d have the most to loose.
So if this happens in the US, I assume DeSantis would sue all the airlines for implementing their own policies that are stricter than government guidelines. It is state governors, not businesses, that apparently get to dictate how private businesses are run.
The FL governor’s idiocy aside, I think a no-mask domestic, yes-mask international system could work. However, I won’t be changing airlines regardless of one might say over another.
Ron DeSantis did not prohibit any business from requiring masks.
I flew BRU-ORD today and was chatting with a FA who told me that the mask policy will be dropped on UA in September.
I spoke with an AA employee who said the chat around AA is that they will “likely” get rid of it when the US policy ceases. Of course, that’s just the talk, but chances are if one does, they all will. Obviously, anyone who wants to wear one can forever. If vaccination wasn’t enough for me, then I wouldn’t want to fly anyway, you know? I never got colds or the flu from flying, so I am good with it ending at this point. Maybe people will be kinder again. I have never seen such mean passengers in my 20-plus years of travel.
I tend to agree with Steve. Given how quickly business mask mandates collapsed once the government ones were rescinded, if the federales drop the mandate, I think you’ll see the airlines drop theirs in fairly short order. It’s the feds actually dropping the mandate that I’m skeptical of. Gotta keep those masks on between sips of Coke to slow the spread of the flu this upcoming flu season and protect the kids from variants, after all.
Oh I don’t think they will extend it. I actually believe that, had the CDC guidance from mid-May come out 4 weeks earlier, they probably would have let the original mandate expire. It was the airlines (at the behest of the unions) that lobbied for the extension.
I think that the administration would prefer to lift it now, but doing so would make them look weak. It’s obvious from their own testimony in congress that there’s really no scientific data that justifies this, but the FA unions want it and backing down now would justifiably look like they are bowing to public pressure. That’s why I strongly believe they’ll stay the course and let it expire in September. I think there’s sufficient cover (the Delta variant, etc.) to do so, and it more or less preserves their image and labor peace.
Unless vaccinated people start dying or getting seriously ill in LARGE numbers (I don’t count anecdotal stories or nursing home patients here), there’s just no way that this mandate gets renewed again. I think this administration really wants to great mask mandate debate to just go away once and for all. It sure seems that outside of California, most of the public does.
Frankly, given how much paperwork we have handed over to airlines, I think they should just enforce a “no mask for (confirmed) vaccinated.” Fair for passenger, safe(r) for crews, and low-risk for airlines.