Sadly, I now predict the mask mandate will be extended on airplanes at least once more…and I have public polling, recent statements from government officials, and the city of Philadelphia to demonstrate why I’ve arrived at this point.
Mask Mandate Extended Again? I Tend To Think So
Let me start by saying that I want to the mask mandate to end. At this point in the pandemic, with vaccines and drugs to treat COVID-19 widely available, it should be up to each person whether to protect themselves with a mask or not. We saw a huge surge in violence onboard during the pandemic directly traceable to masks and it is time to jettison those masking requirements and encourage each passenger to take precautions as they deem prudent. The mask mandate should expire on April 18, 2022.
But while both flight airlines and flight attendant unions wish to rescind the mask mandate, I am increasingly convinced it will be extended again.
First, because of words from White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha. He told NBC News this week that an extension is “absolutely” under consideration, noting:
“This is a CDC decision and I think it is absolutely on the table.”
Second, because public polling, even at this point, still suggests there is majority support for mandatory masking on airplanes. A Harris Poll tracker found 6 / 10 Americans favor extending the mask mandate on airplanes (no doubt the 6 / 10 Americans who don’t leave their towns…). Democrats are walking a tightrope over the November election, facing inflation levels at 40-year highs, and while declaring victory over COVID-19 is a goal, the Administration does not want to declare victory prematurely. The latest BA.2 strain is manageable, but is highly contagious.
Third, because the city of Philadelphia just brought back its indoor mask mandate, blaming a surge in cases. As a former Philadelphia resident, I think the city has overstepped its bounds and acted irrationally (the city says it is out of an abundance of caution), particularly because hospitals are not expected to fill up and though contagious, the BA.2 is very much treatable for the few who exhibit strong symptoms. This becomes a “boy who cried wolf” situation when Philadelphia disregards CDC recommendations and hospitals never fill up. Philadelphia’s move is particularly unfortunate because it makes it more likely the CDC will also act out of an abundance of caution.
As much as I’d love to be 100% wrong, my hunch is that the mask mandate on airplanes will be extended once again. Instead, those who are at high-risk (like the elderly or the obese) should wear masks and others should be left to decide for themselves. Enough is enough.