A Federal Mask Mandate For Airlines Is A Terrible Idea – Even Though Masks Are A Good Idea

If you think that masks are a good idea – and the preponderance of evidence suggests they are, although what some people are using as masks may not be especially prophylactic – then of course you think they should be mandated on airplanes by the federal government, right?

I mean, the only people who would argue against a federal mask mandate are people who think wearing masks impinges on their freedom. A mask requirement does impinge on freedom, but not nearly as much as a public health lock down. So it’s a minor inconvenience, compared to the alternative.

Flight attendants union boss Sara Nelson, head of AFA-CWA, is calling for a federal airline mask mandate. However even though airline mask requirements may be a good idea, a federal mask mandate is not. Here are 5 reasons why:

  1. Unnecessary. A mask mandate isn’t necessary, every airline requires masks already – a federal mandate would just tell airlines they have to do what they’re already doing.

  2. Fails to meet variety of needs as well as current airline rules. A federal mandate would mean everyone has the same policy, but right now if your 2 year old won’t keep a mask on or if you need a medical exemption you have Delta as an option – different policies at different airlines can be good.

  3. Will be weaker than what we have now. A federal mandate would involve lobbying from interest groups and likely water down the mask mandate. Would the strongest mandates even survive? If you think that there shouldn’t be medical exemptions to masks, you shouldn’t favor a federal mandate – be happy that American, United, and Southwest all have this policy already.

  4. Won’t go away when the time comes. Removing rules is a slow process. Bureaucrats are inherently conservative. Public health officials would argue that wearing masks is always better, and not just for the coronavirus pandemic. If we entrench airline mask rules in law they’re likely to persist longer than necessary.

  5. Makes air travel even worse. Turning airline customer problems over to law enforcement is a bad idea. It took airlines a little while to figure out how to handle enforcement but after a bumpy start they’re mostly getting it right. Meanwhile creating more of an us vs. them mentality with crew, turning passengers over to law enforcement, is a road we’ve gone down before and rejected.

This idea is being pushed by the same Sara Nelson who wanted a ban on all discretionary air travel in April – which would have hurt airlines, and therefore her own union membership, even more. By the way flight attendants have had a lower rate of virus infection than the public at large despite exposure to more people and more travel. And this is the same Sara Nelson who says the flight attendant call button is for “emergency use” and it’s “not intended to be for ordering drinks.”

She’s an important political player but on this she’s completely wrong, and seems to be intentionally making the issue political, highlighting a lack of mask mandate as a failing of the current President when his challenger has publicly called for a national mask mandate.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Federal mandates are almost always a bad idea. Ironic that many of the people who opposed Federal Law Enforcement in Seattle to stop rioters from burning a Federal Courthouse now want those same officers to come on planes if some jerk won’t pull his mask up over his nose.

  2. “So it’s a minor inconvenience, compared to the alternative.”

    The fallacious argument known as a “false dichotomy”. Why is this concept so difficult for Gary to understand? Mask wearing as everything to do with control and almost nothing to do with science. Unfortunately, Gary, like most people, do not want to spend even two minutes of time to vet information as wrong or true when the information to do so is readily available. Instead, society at large still prefers to have the parasitic ruling class think for them and tell them what to believe.

  3. James N,

    Last time I checked, Trump was still the parasitic ruling class king of the US who “thinks” for his followers and tells them what to believe. Isn’t Trump still your Lord? Merely claiming otherwise won’t make it so.

  4. There is nothing wrong with making this a federal rule. We federally require seat belts be buckled during takeoff and landing as well.

  5. The government needs to stay out of the mask mandate. The less government the better.

  6. @GUWonder…As usual the simple-minded attempt to politicize everything. No where in my post did I reference a political party. Try again!

  7. All these arguments are week at best. There are very few delinquents who don’t clean after their pets even though the chances of getting caught are slim. Most people are law-abiding, and this law (or mandate in this case) would prevent the vast majority of belligerents to break the law regardless how much they hate it.

    With a federal mask mandate it’s even better, since they would have nowhere to hide, the enforcement would be quick and unavoidable, and the risk of paying a substantial fine or getting added to the no-flight list would be too great to ignore. A federal mandate would ensure that EVERYONE wears a mask. Simple.

  8. James N,

    Better luck to you next time, for your comment was the simple-minded attempt to politicize everything. My comment was just a response to your mention of “the parasitic ruling class”. Who is the parasitic ruling class king of the US? Trump.

  9. How has a federal mandate for passengers to wear seat-belts made a mess of things?

    If it hasn’t, why would a federal mask mandate make a mess of things? When told something is a federal legal requirement and there are legal consequences for failure to comply, more people tend to do what is required.

  10. @GUWonder – there’s not nearly as much difficulty putting a seat belt on a two year old as a mask (and having them keep it on), there’s also never been an expectation that a federal seat belt rule would be temporary so the challenges reversing a rule aren’t relevant.

  11. Gary,

    Some children and their accompanying adults have been removed from flights because the child refused to stay seated and buckled in at the required times. The same kind of thing happening for masks wouldn’t be the end of the world; and assuming the mandate was for children 6+ years of age, applicable in the absence of a documented medical exemption of sort, what’s the big deal? The mandate could be conditioned from the beginning with an expiration target date/condition, thus having it set to phase out automatically unless subject to a renewal procedure.

  12. ” and the preponderance of evidence suggests they are, although what some people are using as masks may not be especially prophylactic …”

    Hey, o need to indulge your sexual thoughts. This IS a family blog, right?

  13. @loungeabuser

    You should know that the word prophylactic means “to prevent disease”. Nothing more than that.

    The only one who has sexual thoughts about that sentence, is probably you.

  14. Sorry, GUNoWonder…You’re wrong! The “parasitic ruling class” represents both sides of the aisle and again isn’t a political statement, simply a basic truth.

  15. James N,

    The reference to “the parasitic ruling class” is a political statement — whether or not it refers to “both sides of the aisle”.

    The “parasitic ruling class” king doesn’t represent “both side of the aisle”, as it’s President Trump and his enablers.

    Either you don’t even understand what “politics” and “political” means, or you’re just being disingenuous like the Liar-in-Chief Trump who has been called out as such even by his own beloved elder sister, the one and only former US federal judge Maryanne Trump Barry.

    Gary Leff,

    Is it worse that Delta’s approach may become the US industry standard response to the circumstances? That’s possible via a US federal mandate — not that we’ll be given such by a Trump Administration in the run-up to the election at least (if ever).

  16. If americans want to be welcomed back to other countries, where we currently cannot fly, then a mask requirement that further supports what airlines are already doing will probably be needed.

    A serious national policy for international air travel would be simple to do and demonstrate some seriousness toward addressing this pandemic and not spreading it to other countries.

    Of course a continuation of the present libertarian passion plays on each flight may be entertaining to some political zealots, but it won’t help restore confidence in other nations considering lifting travel restrictions now in place for americans. It is bad public health programs, and bad public policy. And as such, even aeroflot won’t want to fly here.

    So if people in the us want to visit countries that have common sense requirements for public health, like wearing a mask in public places, like on airplanes, we may need to put in place some corresponding requirements for US airlines. Or we could just turn our airlines into regional carriers and not have foreign international airlines fly here either. Because they won’t if they are thrown into the ad hoc, hodge podge of mask or no mask bad kabuki, we have now. Now that isn’t five reasons, it is just one good one.

  17. The Federal Government under this President has refused to take charge of this crisis from the get go. We have the current amount of deaths and lead the world in infections because of this. I am tired of hearing people (most of whom are the backers of this President and the Administration) claim that masks do nothing. That is an out and out lie. We need and needed Federal mandates across the board about wearing masks (including on planes). And yes, people should be fined and arrested if they do not wear them. The only weapons we have against more deaths and sickness is masks, constant cleaning of hands and social distancing. Because of the lack of federal mandates every state, county, city, village, HOA is fighting over this very issue when it is not necessary. We have 181,500 deaths already in the U.S. and by sometime in December we may hit over 300,000. What don’t people get? Amazing how stupid we Americans are! Sorry, but true.

  18. A carefully worded federal mandate can address all of the concerned you’ve raised. Consider a mandate that allows airlines to define the masks requirements within certain guidelines, and make it a federal crime for a passenger to willfully obstruct the enforcement of such guidelines, and shut down federal court cases where passengers try to sue airlines for making them wear a mask.

  19. Nope, GUWonder, you need to check your definitions.
    “The term political statement is used to refer to any act or non-verbal form of communication that is intended to influence a decision to be made for or by a political party.”

    No where have I done that. I’m simply stating the fact that the bulk of the population prefers to have their lives dictated by the “parasitic ruling class”. There’s nothing political about that statement.

  20. What in the world is this article? Embarrassing, ill-thought propaganda. Will never come back.

  21. @confused – any *particular* reason you disagree with it, something you believe I’ve written that’s somehow mistaken?

    As I explain in the piece I believe a federal mask mandate will be *weaker* than what several airlines do today, not stronger, and so if you think masks are important this will be counterproductive. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong.

  22. I knew Leff would make this a Trump issue. He never misses an opportunity to blame Trump. I am a Jew and so is Leff. Yet he would rather see anti Jewish and anti all things capitalism in power. Just stupid. But typically Leff.

  23. @Dickybobby – what on earth? The word Trump doesn’t appear in the piece, and the only person I criticize by name was a Bernie Sanders supporter.

  24. Dickybobby,

    Gary Leff won’t even commit publicly to voting for Biden in Texas this year. And not voting for Biden later this year is a de facto vote for Trump.

    Last I knew, Gary Leff was politically more closely aligned to big financial backers for Trump’s Republican Party than to the Democratic Party.

    Keep imagining that dream, Dickybobby, but Biden isn’t anti-Jewish; and he’s not anti-capitalism.

  25. Yes on the federal mandate 100%.

    The arguments against it are not valid. [SMH]

    This Sara Nelson he speaks of sounds very intelligent and reasonable. I agree with all her points. Where is her blog lol.

    In the meantime I’m needed here to help counteract the authors comments. You’re welcome.

  26. It is a great idea, the airlines now require it anyway but Flight attendants jobs are getting more tedious without the backing of the government. This standoff has caused many delays and frustrations are high. Some passengers, not a lot, wait until they are airborne to refuse and knowing that it’s the rule backed by government may make them think twice.

  27. Ynick Rose Copeland, thank you for being the voice of reason and making so much logical sense! It’s good to have balance when this is such a slanted article made to not look “too” slanted but I see what’s happening here. And also, for every case in which someone doesn’t wear the mask once in flight, there are many more you don’t hear about in the news. So unfortunately it happens more than we know….

  28. My comments may be getting censored. Before I would post and immediately it would show. Now I post, it’s not there, I would rewrite almost the same thing. I then see it there 2X. But I don’t really know if it was a matter of patience and things posting slower. Or if it’s a matter of not getting approved, then both are approved later and I look foolish. How quickly are others postings happening?

    But anyway, I agree with you Ynick Rose Copeland 100%. Thank you for being logical and reasonable. For every case we hear about that someone took off their mask after the flight began, many more occur that do not make it to the news.

  29. I Have had Asthma since I was A Child ! Always under Control ! I might also add that I Was A Flight Attendant for 30 years with A Major Airline , And had no problems whatsoever ! I am retired now and Fly back East every 3 Months to visit Family! Or at least I used to before the Virus ! Now I have not been since Christmas ! I was Widowed 4 years ago , and family , Daughter, Grandsons , sisters and all family and friends. Are back East ! As We All know the cabin Altitude is usually 7 to 8 thousand feet ! Wearing A Mask for me for all the hours required will not be easy or safe for me ! I am perfectly fine with Asthma under Control , however it is not a good idea to wear the mask for 12 hours , From entering airport to leaving all those hours later! So therefore I will not be able to get on a Plane ever again ! Especially if mandatory becomes A Law ! And masks are always required ! I feel many people will give up on flying ! Ironic that my Career in the airline Industry is now A Huge Kick in the Ass !!! I don’t see we will ever be permitted on transportation without masks!! It will be Permanent !!!

  30. Diana, your post was not easy to read the way in which it was written, but I got through it somehow.

    Other asthma sufferers are wearing their masks. In the u.s. alone there are 25 million asthma sufferers. I get there are degrees of asthma. But right now it is necessary for the sake of everyone’s health to use masks. To think it will be required when this virus is under control seems paranoid to me by you and the o.p. What possible incentive does that give airlines already struggling as it is ? And the governmemt does not want a failing airline industry either. Did we all wear masks 2 years after the 1918 flu pandemic ??? No.

    It may be a while before we can fly without masks though, because the u.s. didn’t take the problem seriously enough to nip it in the bud like other nations. You can thank the anti maskers for that.

    Bottom line, if all your family and friends are on the esst coast and you are not, maybe moving there rather than flying back and forth is an option ? Not saying that’s easy, just offering a possible solution. I genuinely wish you the best of luck.

  31. These mask mandates are bogus [redacted]. Government control. You will be forced to get the vaccine in order to travel here soon and show proof. You people better wake up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *