A picture has gone viral on reddit showing a United Airlines flight attendant serving the cabin without a mask on. Because its authenticity has been called into dispute, I’ve chosen to blur her face. But that won’t stop us from addressing the issue, even if only in a hypothetical fashion.
Did United Airlines Flight Attendant Serve Cabin Without Mask?
The mask regime falls if flight attendants don’t comply. It’s that simple. As we are reminded each time we fly, “While service is our passion, safety is our priority.” For months we have been told that masks are key in slowing the spread of virus. Delta Air Lines is touting a new Harvard study purporting to prove exactly that.
Essential in the concept of wearing a mask is the idea of reciprocity, since masks are more about protecting others from yourself (versus protecting yourself from others). Unlike passengers, who at most are exposed to the few passengers around them, flight attendants remain in a customer-facing role. If anyone should be wearing a mask onboard, it is flight attendants.
Which leads us to this picture, purportedly taken on UA2425 from Orlando (MCO) to Houston (IAH) on Sunday, September 20:
In typical reddit fashion, the original poster is attacked and called a fake and the picture is called into question. Several things I’d note. One, there are no in-flight magazines in the seatback pockets. That tells me the picture is recent, since pre-pandemic we would expect to see them in every seat and this aircraft does not have a lower literature pocket. Two, the safety card (737-800/900) reflects what operated the flight on Sunday. Furthermore, the seat map also reflects a full flight on Sunday (the flight departed with only three open seats). In that sense, the picture is very plausible, even though we cannot see anyone on the aircraft wearing masks.
Now it could well be this is an older picture, but I find it highly unlikely. And yet even if a flight attendant was an anti-masker, United policy is so clear that I’ve never (in what is now 10 flights since the pandemic) seen a flight attendant wear a mask below her nose, let alone leave it off.
Something doesn’t make sense. You really think no one onboard said anything to her if this was really just from two days ago? So I don’t think we can conclude either way if this picture was recent. But that doesn’t matter for purposes of our discussion.
Confront Or Not?
But let’s discuss how to deal with a flight attendant who takes a mask for thee, but not for me approach. Say something and risk being thrown off, like the man on Allegiant? Take the passive aggressive approach and photo shame her on the internet instead of saying something? Just report it to the airline.
Feel free to condemn me, but I’m not opening my mouth. Last time I put a flight attendant on the defensive I got thrown off the flight. No more of that. Would I document it with my camera phone? Oh yes. Would I write about it? Likely.
Shaming is extremely helpful in eliciting compliance (for virtually any power structure). Hypocrisy is the best way to delegitimize a person or idea.
It matters whether this picture is real or not, but the idea of confronting a flight attendant over mask compliance is not something I am comfortable doing. That’s the issue I am struggling with today. But in the combative culture we find ourselves in, it seems almost inventible the problem would be self-correcting.