Airlines remove mask mandate, but not all passengers are celebrating

Apr 20, 2022

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Monday’s sudden announcement that the federal mask mandate aboard airlines had been lifted caught many by surprise.

Once the initial surprise faded, the change was greeted by both the traveling public and the airline industry with a mixed reaction of both cheers and fears.

The cheers, of course, came from those who, for a variety of reasons, were (more than) ready to leave masks behind.

Fears were expressed by those concerned that it’s still too early to remove the mandate, given COVID-19’s stubborn persistence and the lack of vaccines for children under 5 years of age.

Here’s what a sampling of passengers, medical professionals and airline staff members are saying about this new world of mask-optional flying.

Relief over no longer being responsible for enforcement

Travelers check in at the Qatar Airways check-in counter at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

From the flight deck, a captain at a major U.S. airline shared his viewpoint of the policy change with The Points Guy: “While I wish that the end of the mask mandate on board aircraft and at our airports had been a bit better coordinated instead of the seemingly hastily cobbled together messaging to hundreds of thousands of airline employees, I’m glad that the traveling public now has the choice to mask or not while flying with us just as they do everywhere else in the United States today.”

A flight attendant for a major U.S. carrier told The Points Guy he’s also relieved at the removal of the mask mandate, saying, “Flight attendants not only experienced this pandemic uniquely but we were forced to endure it for hours on end during flights and juggle the politics of who we had to police to comply … It’s been traumatic.”

He added that no longer having to be responsible for enforcing mask-wearing was a huge relief to him and his co-workers.

All-or-nothing may not work for everyone

From a medical perspective, Dr. Jenny Yu, director at Healthline Media (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures) recommends that regardless of the official policy, you take a balanced mask approach appropriate to your situation.

“Masks worn properly, with the right material, have been shown to reduce viral transmission, even prior to the pandemic,” she said. “The all-or-none approach doesn’t work for everyone. While the mandate-lifting may make sense for the majority given the currently lower case rate, many people may still want to wear a mask if they are in the high-risk category. I would recommend individuals who have questions to discuss risks with their care providers.”

Passenger reactions split

Passengers’ reactions have also run the full gamut. This included audible cheers and applause on flights as the rule change was announced midflight, to dismay and even fear.

Probably not surprising given the polarity found across the country on this topic, comments in TPG’s Facebook Lounge are split about evenly with both support and unhappiness over the change. Many passengers on the message board brought up the concern that the lack of masking may cause increased sickness among flight crews, resulting in a surge of flight cancellations.

Other travelers worried that they would be hassled for their choice of continuing to wear a mask, with some reporting negative comments while wearing a mask in transit since the rule changed yesterday.

Marisa Hirsch, a stay-at-home parent and semiregular family flyer, told TPG that she felt “confused and irritated” by the sudden decision. “I think it’s bizarre to remove a mask mandate before small children can be vaccinated.”

With a younger child, Hirsch said, “I will definitely be less comfortable flying. We have an international trip scheduled for this summer and I will be keeping a close eye on the situation, and I’m prepared to cancel, though I’m desperately hoping we don’t have to!”

Another parent, Kacey Lee Kell, who travels both on family vacations and for her work as associate general counsel at Edible Brands, said the mask mandate change “will not impact my travel habits,” despite having two young kids unable to be vaccinated. “For us, it’s a mixture and cheering and fearing … I’m happy as an adult to wear a mask when it may make people who have autoimmune diseases feel a bit more safe, but I’m also glad to be done with the fear of getting kicked off a plane due to [my] toddler not complying with a mandate that made very little sense.”

Bottom line

Like most COVID-19-related policies and procedures, industry and public opinion about the removal of the mask mandate vary depending on who you talk to.

While it was the inflight cheers that were largely captured and shared on social media Monday, there are also those who are increasingly concerned about their next flight and the impact on the immunocompromised and those not old enough to be vaccinated.

TPG will continue to monitor the impact that mask-free flying will have on both airline staff members and passengers in the coming days and weeks.

Featured photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty Images.

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