As COVID-19 numbers continue to drop and masking requirements are lifted in even more “blue” states, will the federal mask mandate on airplanes and other modes of transportation expire on March 18, 2022?
Will U.S. Mask Mandate Be Extended One Last Time In 2022?
As the deadline looms for the U.S. federal mask mandate, which requires masking onboard all modes of transit and in transit facilities, we’ve heard nary a word from the Transportation Security Administration or the Biden Administration on whether it will be extended again.
During his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden did not address the mask mandate, but also did not wear a mask in the House chamber. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki explained that the reason for Biden’s choice to abandon his signature mask was due to new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance that ties recommended mask usage to hospitalization rates rather than case numbers.
Political analysts have predicted that the Biden Administration will lift the mask mandate at some point well-before the November midterm elections so that the Democratic White House can declare victory over COVID-19, a move Democrats hope will buoy its chances to hold on to power in both chambers of Congress.
While airplanes represent a unique environment in which people share limited common space for an extended period, unlike concert halls or movie theaters, high-grade HEPA filter systems constantly recirculate air, minimizing the risk of virus spread.
Flight attendants have been vague, to say the least, on whether they support an extension of the mask mandate. For example, the AFA-CWA, a union representing over 50,000 flights attendants, issued a rare correction, dismissing earlier reports that it was advocating for an extension. Yet it has stopped far short of advocating for its removal.
This “wait and see” approach makes sense because masks are essentially a “pick your poison” remedy. Air rage and violence continues to be elevated and is often tied to masks. There is credible reason to believe that once the mask mandate is lifted, the number of onboard disturbances will lessen, even if the lack of masks aboard increases the risk for virus transmission.
I’m ready for the mask mandate to end because adequate protection exists for those who wish to protect themselves: N95 or KN95 masks are widely available and don’t just offer others protection from yourself, but offer you protection from others. With vaccines as well as those masks widely available, I believe it is now up to each person to determine how best to protect themselves.
I predict even if the mask mandate is briefly extended, it will be over by summer. However, if I was betting man, I expect the federal mandate to end and most airlines, all of which had mask polices in place before the mandate, to scale back mask requirements as well.
While deaths with COVID-19 continue, more are realizing that this virus will never be defeated. Yet tools are now widely available, like N95 masks and vaccines, that help to minimize risk, and like so much else in life, that likely represents the best approach to dealing with the tradeoffs between risk and what is forfeited (known and currently unknown) by taking an overly-cautious approach.
I look forward to taking my mask off on airplanes. Do you?
image: Southwest Airlines / Stephen M. Keller
It’s time to end this vaccine theatre on planes. Time to end ALL the nonsense!
If we learned anything over the past two years – and perhaps we haven’t – I would like to think it’s that some level of international coordination is necessary to message public health policies. I have heard very little about a serious effort to move toward a coordinated lifting of mask mandates. An odd outlier country here and there but nothing coordinated. Coordination would require work and functional communication skills, attributes neither Team Biden or his predecessor have showed much interest in. Think lifting without international coordination would be a mess. Put me on team mask, at least for now.
I agree that the mask mandate should be lifted but will be completely stunned if it is lifted now. Given all of the other current distractions, the path of least resistance is to keep it in place and the current political calculus from their base is to keep it in place and until that changes the mandate will not change. Of course, they may wise up as November gets closer and realize their base on this issue is perhaps 25% of the electorate but that is for another day, for now, there is no advocate for this change on the left so nothing will happen.
The mandate will be forever, just like taking your shoes off.
However, recently I noticed a difference: flew business class to Asia on an Asian airline and while the FAs on American on a similar trip out of DFW, also in business, continually reminded me to re-mask between bites and sips and would not let me sleep if my mask ‘accidentally’ slipped off my nose, making that flight, with me in 1A, very uncomfortable, the (very pretty) FAs on this flight didn’t seem to care and I slept almost the whole way with my mask approximately around my chin or forehead (and thus could breathe). I’ll have to fly them more often though AA is cheaper.
But March 18 will come and go and the mask mandate will stay. Eventually everyone’s resistance will be defeated and you will bring a mask to the airport, forever, just like putting your little liquid containers in a ziplok, etc.
You’ll see. It’s not going away.
I fear you’re right about it continuing, but hope it does end.
My last trip in QSuites there was zero policing of the mask policy when in your suite, on either flight. I tried to put mine on when an FA came to my suite as a courtesy but didn’t always grab it in time and no one ever batted an eye.
I haven’t put liquids in a zip lock bag when departing an airport not named Heathrow in probably 10 years.
Indeed. On a flight from GRU to EWR on United recently I was poked several times rather forcefully while asleep in business and told to “put on my mask” after it had slipped under my nose. Just rude and unnecessary. On recent flights on QR and TK the attendants let me sleep without the mask fully covering my nose and mouth. Much more civilised and practical and with more common sense. It really seems the American FAs just like to boss people around.
On a recent transcon flight the FAs didn’t seem to ‘police’ mask compliance. Unless the mask was nowhere to be seen, they let passengers be. Passengers were wearing masks under their noses, and chins or hanging from their ears and the FAs didn’t say a word.
I was chatting to the purser mid way through the flight and her mask was hanging down from her ear. She said the FAs can’t wait for the mandate to be over.
Yes I have noticed a growing gap between the “mask police” crews (they’re still out there) that pace the isle looking for any infraction and others who make the required pre-flight announcement and never mention masks again.
I’ve seen this too, my AF/KLM flights have been fairly lax about masks, while there are some domestic routes where FAs seem to want to make a name for themselves as mask police.
This stupid mask mandate will never end. It hasn’t worked but the FA’s love berating us about pulling it up if it means less work during the flight.
I was fine wearing masks before a vaccine was readily available and widely taken. I was fine wearing a mask when hospitalizations were high and cases were spiking. I was even fine wearing a mask last year after a vaccine was readily available if it helped facilitate businesses doing well, and giving people confidence to get back out there and eat indoors or travel etc. But at this point, why are we still wearing masks? Cases are manageable, hospitals in a good place, and anyone that wants a vaccine or N95 mask can easily get one.
I think the safety measures Trump/Biden implemented made sense with the data they had. But at this point we need to move on. Holding on to this fear of Covid makes no sense when we are at the stage we are at.
It’s going to be a busy spring break season, and by all estimates, a very busy summer travel season. I think the gov’t should make up their mind quickly so people can decide if they want to travel or not..whichever way they go.
This is the most reasonable take in this entire comment section… what are you doing here?
What is this voice of reason? Measured, rational, compassionate – such a rarity.
With you 100%.
Four weeks ago I was certain it would be extended until late May/early June. Now I’m not so sure, and with the expiration only 10 days out I’m actually leaning toward the beliefs that they’ll let it lapse. There are three reasons:
1) There is absolutely no industry support anymore. Airlines know this is harming their business and domestic F class sales. Skyrocketing fuel costs means that the leisure travel they’ve been getting by on could take a significant hit this summer, and they need that higher margin business more than ever.
2) Mask mandates are just politically toxic right now. It wasn’t a change in “the science” that caused nearly all blue state governors to drop mask mandates en mass last month…it was internal focus groups and internal polling that showed the party headed for a bloodbath if they didn’t change course. The CDC initially resisted but finally backed down and changed face a few weeks later.
3) There is finally a credible lawsuit making its way through court to block the mandate. While there had been some unsuccessful lawsuits in the past, they were all filed by crackpot plaintiffs (and all pro se, I believe) making emergency appeals to SCOTUS. The new suit was filed by the Texas AG by experienced litigants in a conservative district court that has been successful in overturning several pandemic-related emergency orders. The legal authority for issuing the travel mask mandate is shaky at best, and I highly suspect a defeat for the administration at the district and appeals court level.
All that said, there is the genuine issue of the actual efficacy of the mask mandate in preventing transmission. It’s now accepted (even by the CDC) that one-way masking with a well-fitted, high quality mask is effective at preventing transmission….more effective than two-way masking with poorly-fit, low quality masks that are frequently handled and removed. People at high risk for severe Covid now have access to free N95 masks, which would serve them well on an airplane. This leaves the only small children as the only real argument left, and it’s hard to argue that children can ride tightly packed, poorly ventilated, school busses without masks (now allowed by CDC) but planes are somehow more dangerous.
When all of the above are taken into account, it now seems more likely than not that we are finally at the end. It will be very hard to justify another extension, even though another few weeks for “international coordination” does seem reasonable to me personally. The closer we get to the 18th, the more bad press they’ll get if they announce a late-breaking extension.
100% spot on
Does this mean the flight attendants will stop yelling at us?
Does this mean some customers will stop acting like Jabronis?? You know who you are!!
Probably not… but it does mean the end of confrontations over mask compliance, and the possibility of those contrived interactions escalating into something worse. There is scant evidence to support the notion that the increased rate of inflight incidents is broadly related to anything more than COVID-era panic/theater policy (e.g., mask mandate, to-go alcohol in airports, suspension of inflight service leading to more smuggling of alcohol onboard, etc.)
Keeping the mask mandate on airplanes and airports while nowhere else mandates masks will be the last nail in the coffin of the Democrats in November. Record inflation, Covid theater and gas at $7 will crush them. B…..n will play bingo for the next 2 years while he watches the “minor incursion” from Russia in Ukraine.
The only way the democrats lose is if there is massive voter fraud. The machines will have to be seized. The cyber samurais will have to recount. Alternate electors will be chosen. If biden wins, it’s fair and square, but if not then Stop the steal! Biden for life!
That’s how the game is played now, right?
Call me in November . LOL!!! Bingo, solitaire, dominoes. B……n will have his hands busy.
Maybe he’ll start a social media platform that doesn’t work
He cannot do anything by himself. He needs care all the time.
He can walk down a ramp by himself and drink a glass of water with one hand. He can also ride a bike. Can you imagine Trump on a bike? The seat would squeeze the poo right out of his adult diaper
The bigger question is who will be left flying as prices continue to increase and disposable income is decreasing.
People should have quit their jobs for higher paying ones. Jobs are almost never going to give your the salary you deserve, so it is best to seek greener pastures.
Forget the mask mandate, this is how to stop the onboard incidences… raise prices so that meth heads can’t afford plane tickets anymore
True but their dealer is in first – looking at you AA LGA-MIA.
Even N95 respirators have not been demonstrated to stop airborne transmission of respiratory viruses. This was “settled science” before COVID-19 broke out of Wuhan. There were numerous studies done in hospital settings showing minimal, if nay, benefit to wearing N95 masks. Do you think your average citizen out in the wild is going to be wearing one properly?
That being said, airplanes are safe, with or without masks. If you are afraid, stay home. Don’t impose your fears on everyone else. That is white supremacy! The Harris-Biden administration with Joe Biden as President and the DNC/DNCC need a win. Bye-bye, masks.
Well, that’s on them. Enough is enough.
Come on, Matt. Do you really think that filter system on the plane is going to protect you if your seat meat has Covid and coughs/sneezes? That’s wishful thinking at its best.
If one is so seriously concerned about contracting COVID presently, with:
(1) a vaccine/booster regimen nearly universally available;
(2) effective therapeutics increasingly available;
(3) more than sufficient critical/intensive care capacity available virtually everywhere;
(4) the dominant strain of the virus is demonstrably less severe and less deadly than prior variants; and
(5) healthcare providers know much more about treating COVID than at any previous time
then said individual should be wearing a properly-fitting, certified N95 respirator at all times, or avoiding travel altogether. No federal mandate is necessary for taking responsibility for one’s own personal health decisions.
I’m pretty sure Putin defeated covid already.
But honestly, the pessimist in me believes the mandate-in-chief will extend the mandate, even though cloth masks in particular is about as useless as a CDC level 4: Do Not Travel warning.
I hope I’m wrong.
One data point. A week ago, I was on a three hour domestic flight, in F and after the snack, I just forgot to put my mask up again. For an hour or two. Not making a statement, just forgot. And no one said anything. I wonder if that shows that some FAs, at least, just don’t care that much any more.
Also, Matthew, what is your thinking about when 48 hour testing before an international flight for vaccinated individuals will go away?
It should be lifted, but it won’t. The democrats are using this for power. And some of the flight attendants love the power of telling you to put on your mask.
You’ve cracked the case! This has been the master plan all along! Get in charge and make people wear a mask! No getting anything past you
A month ago, I was certain Billy Bob was correct, and that we’d all be masking on planes until at least January 20, 2025. Now…I’m not so sure. It’s not that The Science (TM) has changed, but the political science has shifted dramatically over the past couple of months. There may be another short-term extension, but Biden needs the mandate gone long before November, so its days are likely numbered at this point. If nothing else, I just wish they’d raise the minimum age for compliance to something more reasonable like 6 or 10 so I can get my family back in the air again.
Just avoid Southwest and American and you can get right back in the air – other airlines really don’t care, IME.
In the past month I’ve been in PA, TX, FL, GA, CA, OR, NC, AL, NY and IL. The only time I ever really wore a mask was on the plane moving between those places. I would wear a mask if requested or if others were, but I wasn’t. I just don’t see masking as a common practice anywhere in the USA right now, so it seems silly that we continue to do it on planes.
I plan to continue wearing a mask in the air. Good practice, IMAO.
Why should I have to put up with suppressing my breathing 32000 ft above ground, only to support a political motive? Why should I have to put up with suppressing my breathing 32000 ft above ground, only to let TSA schmucks and FAs BULLY ME?
Why should I have to put up with suppressing my breathing 32000 ft above ground, only to pretend and market fear of a boogeyman?
I don’t, and I won’t and just because I coose not to, I am in no way shape or form a “criminal”. I am the “oppressed” and AOTA are the “oppressors”
I hope that they just let it drop. The majority of masks people are wearing on planes anyway are absolutely useless. Especially the cloth ones FAs are wearing. We’ve known this for 2 years now. most people are not wearing a fit tested N95 mask.
It’s beyond time for this last cling of pandemic theater to have its final curtain call.
Keep the masks until the end of May
Condolences to all the anti maskers who will soon have to find something else to direct their impotent rage towards. I’m sure you’ll find something.
The mask requirement is nothing more than theater mandated by despicable politicians who are far more concerned about controlling our lives than with improving them.
End this BS charade now.
Well, this article is cursed…
I found wearing a mask to be useful. It has eliminated getting colds for me. Of course I got a cold when I didn’t wear a mask. They are sometimes annoying but that can be dealt with. I learned to properly use masks in an industrial setting. N95 and KN95 masks are much less problematic.
This truly sucks for all of us cabin crew… and pax as well. Our corrupt gov’t thinks that a month extension is going to make THAT much of a difference… oh well..
So the battle continues for the entitled that just because they are triple-vaccinated and/or have a negative COVID test, they’re exempt from the mandate… smh.
Personally, masks should be optional to wear by both pax and crew…. it’s up to the individual whether they want to take that risk or not… it’s time to move on and have some normalcy in the air.