Business Travel Won’t Return Until Mask Mandates No Longer Needed

I’m not interested in debating masks on planes. Let’s just stipulate,

  • Planes are safer environments than indoor congregant settings like restaurants and bars where masks often aren’t required
  • But masks probably provide some protective benefit
  • Though masks that meet the requirement (such as cloth masks) do very little, if you want to protect yourself and others then get a better mask

Early in the pandemic masks gave people confidence to travel, before there were vaccines and as many or as good treatments for Covid-19. You’re in close quarters with other people, so it’s comforting to see everyone else wearing a mask even if you find it uncomfortable to maintain throughout a long travel day.

Outgoing American Airlines CEO Doug Parker made a point, though, in his opening remarks to employees after completing the carrier’s fourth quarter earnings call this past Thursday. His remarks suggested that masks are an impediment to return of business travel. The full return to normal is therefore going to necessarily involve lifting masking requirements.

Dr. Fauci and other Biden administration insiders have argued that masking should be required on planes forever. I’ve suggested that the political realities are that requirements need to be lifted before the midterm elections. Airlines, politicians and the world need to return to normal so there’ll be a drive to ‘declare victory’ over the virus.

While it’s far from guaranteed that Omicron represents the end of the pandemic, there’s a good chance that it does with higher levels of background immunity, hopefully variant-specific or multivariant vaccine boosers, and highly effective treatments like Paxlovid.

Here’s how Parker explained masks – a continued requirement due to the virus surge – and how it affects business travel (emphasis mine),

We need business travel to get back to where it was. It wants to…every time it starts to look like the world’s going to get back to normal, business travel starts ticking up and it starts ticking up pretty quickly – as it did in July, as it started to do in November.

What happens though is anything that gets people to where we all have to wear a mask again, and for companies that have not yet brought people back to work, they delay that. It’s been delayed yet again for a lot of companies around the United States. It’ll come back, and when it does business return, and [we’ll be profitable].

Masks here are a stand-in for normalcy. Parker sees normal around the corner. Of course last month he had to walk back a suggestion to Congress that masks aren’t necessary on planes.

I am personally fine with masks but let’s not pretend they do more than they do. I wanted to wear them during flu season before all of this because I don’t want to get sick, I have too much going on for the forced downtime. And while I don’t love masks, I don’t hate them either. They’re mild discomfort, and mild public health benefit, ultimately a distraction from fixing our institutions that have failed us during the pandemic like FDA and CDC, and from doubling down on testing, vaccines, and treatment.

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 »

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Comments

  1. @DavidF,

    Seems you may still think this can be contained after all we’ve seen last two years.

    Sure maybe it can if whole world adopts China’s zero tolerance strategy which may work but at costs we all know so don’t need to spell out.

    So takes me back to the point I was saying unless this as as long as this nuclear drastic option isn’t pursued, all rules and restrictions on people’s lives is only noise that will drag out the inevitable rather than naturally letting it run course.

  2. And the winner of today’s most ridiculous statement is….”when hospitals are empty and the unvax are either deceased or gain herd immunity.” So either 50 million of the unvax will die of Covid and/or whatever variant “appears” next or the unvax will magically gain “herd immunity”! On that comical note I am off to sleep.

    But one last thing…..

    In its weekly reports, the United Kingdom has said as many as 80 percent of its Covid deaths are in vaccinated people. In the last several days, New South Wales, the most populous state in Australia, has reported over 70 percent of its surging Covid deaths in the vaccinated.

    UK SOURCE: https://(space) assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1049160/Vaccine-surveillance-report-week-3-2022.pdf

    AUSTRALIA SOURCE: https://w w w dot health.nsw.gov.au/news/Pages/20220121_00.aspx

  3. And the winner of today’s most ridiculous statement is….”when hospitals are empty and the unvax are either deceased or gain herd immunity.” So either 50 million of the unvax will die of Covid and/or whatever variant “appears” next or the unvax will magically gain “herd immunity”! On that comical note I am off to sleep.

    But one last thing…..

    In its weekly reports, the United Kingdom has said as many as 80 percent of its Covid deaths are in vaccinated people. In the last several days, New South Wales, the most populous state in Australia, has reported over 70 percent of its surging Covid deaths in the vaccinated.

    UK SOURCE: assets dot publishing dot service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1049160/Vaccine-surveillance-report-week-3-2022.pdf

    AUSTRALIA SOURCE: health dot nsw dot gov dot au/news/Pages/20220121_00.aspx

  4. That’s stupid and the reason why we are where we are as a country.

    I wish all our problems were as easy to solve as wearing a mask.

  5. I see why the US can’t win any wars they enter and start now, the citizens are a bunch of cry babies. Whine over a mask. You act like 2 year olds. Oh yes, forgot, you base it on your “freedom”. What a joke.

  6. The covid virus doesn’t care about the “return of business travel.” Any talk of ending the mask mandate on airplanes during a pandemic in order to increase business travel is sheer nonsense and won’t happen under this administration as long as the mandate is needed. The anti-maskers are the same type of folks who were against seat belts and motorcycle helmets and hopefully I won’t encounter them on my first class flight to Europe next summer.

  7. In early December, my county of about 110,000 people was averaging 60-70 new COVID cases a day. Yesterday we had 1,100, not including of course home testing.

    But sure-it’s the mask nuisance that’s keeping me home.

  8. @Todd
    This is all about the interpretation of simple statistics.

    In New South Wales you are 24 times more likely to require ICU or die if unvaccinated than if triple vaxxed. And 9 times more likely to require ICU or die if double vaxxed rather than triple vaxxed.

    Just because “most” deaths are vaccinated doesn’t mean the jabs don’t protect you against serious illness or death. Because well over 90% of the population is vaccinated – unlike in the USA.

    Unfortunately this virus is mutating quicker than the vaccines can be updated. So they protect against death but not infection.

    So all but one state in Australia has recently reopened and our infection rate is very high. But our death rate remains far lower than in the USA because a much higher percentage of the population is vaccinated.

    The USA suffers this awful triple whammy of having a completely inadequate vaccination rate, a large section of the population which refuses to mask and a large section of the population which refuses to distance. Hence the current US tally of 0.65 deaths per 100,000 population per day, which is truly shocking.

    This is common around the world in cohorts which obtain their “news” from Facebook. But it is why the USA’s current daily death rate is triple Australia’s even though the infection rate is actually lower.

    In effect, like the UK, they are trying to pretend that the pandemic is over and are piling up the coffins which are the consequence of such behaviour.

    But it is shocking to imagine that an airline could advocate unmasked flights in mid-pandemic. It’s irresponsible to the point of psychopathic.

  9. Until the freedoms fighters on the site actually has a loved one die or die from COVID themselves, they’ll continue to scream about a little piece of fabric covering their mouths.

    As they drink and smoke and eat their way into cardiac and pulmonary oblivion…good riddance and God Bless America.

  10. None of the mask enthusiasts commenting here have heard a thing about the latest science. Omicron is 98% of all new cases. Omicron is overwhelming a mild illness. The booster has shown more susceptibility to omicron than the previous strains. The unboosted are Less susceptible to omicron. We’ve had more deaths in 2021 year with a vaccine and than all of 2020 with no vaccine.

  11. Masks , the way we wear them and in the environments we wear them are…..99% useless. Anyone who thinks otherwise is blinded by left wing media, NOT science. I have doctors in the family…they get FITTED for masks. We wear them loose and the saemones all day. Germs get in and get caught in the mask. If you have one of these masks on and you sneeze and think the mask kept the sneeze in….. well let’s just say we can all believe what we want to believe. I saw. FREEDOM!!! Let people make their own choices. Want to wear a mask.. go for it!! Who the hell is JOE BIDEN or FAUCI to tell me or you what to do. You can wear 2 masks and a HAZMAT suit for all I care… YOUR choice.

  12. @SMR “If you have one of these masks on and you sneeze and think the mask kept the sneeze in”

    Well I hope so. That’s certainly one of the reasons to have the mask on. I’m baffled by the people I see wearing masks who then remove it to cough.

    As for fit testing, sure, respirators used under OSHA regulations must be fit tested. This is not news. OSHA isn’t regulating Covid, so that regulation doesn’t apply. A medical mask that is reasonably well fitting will substantially reduce the percentage of virus particles that spread a great distance from you out of the total number that you emit, regardless of whether it is fit tested. And it will similarly substantially reduce the number that you inhale that were emitted by an infected person standing next to you. This is not hard.. Is it not a zero sum game for most people (e.g., inhaling one virus particle is unlikely to get you infected). It is a percentage game (as are all things in life), and you want to reduce as much as possible the amount of virus you inhale.

    I’ve been out in the world since ~June 2020, and have not caught Covid. I have no intention of catching it. I’ve taught 4 university classes, in person, during it. Students and myself were all masked. I was first in line to be vaccinated, and got boosted back in Sept when it was first available in the US. I shop regularly in stores. We even ate out in restaurants a few times in the fall (not recently though). I was on ~25 individual flight segments in 2021, although all for leisure.

    If I had work travel (and I did have a lot before the pandemic) I would not hesitate to get on a plane wearing a mask. Business travelers who refuse to travel over a mask requirement must not like their jobs very much. I want to do my job. If I need to travel for it, I will jump through the minor hoops (mask, vaccination proof, etc.) needed to complete that travel. This is no different than traveling to countries where vaccinations (non-covid) are required for entry, and we all did that back in the day.

  13. If you want a mask, wear one
    If you want a shot, get one
    If you want social distancing, do so yourself

    If you want covid, do all of the above or nothing at all. Either way we’re all going to get it. Why f*ck the economy over a virus that kills under 1% of the world’s population? If the numbers are all confirmed, real, not lumped in with a plethora of other pre-existing conditions?

    Go ahead, seethe.

  14. @Jay
    You don’t appear to understand the facts that you are quoting.

    Our vaccines are for the original Wuhan strain, not the more virulent and serious Delta strain, let alone Omicron. That is why they don’t prevent infection although they massively reduce deaths.

    Omicron causes less lung damage than Delta, but has similar case fatality rates in the unvaccinated to the original Wuhan strain, and even double jabbed people can be killed by it, although triple jabbing massively reduces mortality.

    The slight reduction in seriousness of Omicron is more than cancelled out by its increased infectiousness: Delta infection rates rarely exceeded 70 per 100,000 people per day during an outbreak whereas typically five times as many people catch Omicron each day.

    This is why masking in public places is so crucial in suppressing Omicron infection, and why any airline executive opposing it is unfit for his or her position and is a menace to society.

    This pandemic doesn’t end because selfish snowflakes are too delicate to wear a mask. If you cannot or will not wear a mask during an outbreak phase of an airborne pandemic you are not fit to be allowed out of your house.

  15. People should stop flying for unnecessary reasons. You just keep on spreading the virus. With or without a mask, sooner or later you will get infected. Mind to stay in your area and keep a safe distance to orders. Follow the rules.

  16. “ Why f*ck the economy over a virus that kills under 1% of the world’s population?”

    If that’s *all* it does, you cool with healthcare workers not having to treat those who don’t mask and aren’t vaccinated if they get COVID?

    Boy bye.

  17. You, Gary Leff, are part of the problem. You WANT to believe that masks “work.” You’re smart enough to know they don’t work “very well,” but you believe they help. You believed that before Covid, and you believe that now. The problem is that despite your desire to protect yourself, your mask won’t. Unless you’re going to wear a very uncomfortable fitted “hospital” mask, they’re useless. And, even then, the evidence hospital masks work against respiratory virus infection is scant.
    https://www.rcreader.com/commentary/masks-dont-work-covid-a-review-of-science-relevant-to-covide-19-social-policy

  18. Daughter: Mom, what is that round spot on your arm?
    Mom: it’s my Small Pox vaccination Scar
    Daughter: Why don’t I have one?
    Mom: Because it worked.

  19. @DavidF –

    Your use of “snowflakes” and your statement “ not fit to be allowed out of your house.” really shows your immaturity and knowledge in this matter for a “supposedly” doctor!

    I was going to suggest you look up todays article “How COVID Shots Suppress Your Immune System” regarding a senior research scientist at MIT for the last five decades. However, I don’t think you could comprehend it. But give it a “shot” anyway.

  20. I am finding that I agree with Todd. Travel is no longer the same. I love to travel–well, I love the way we used to travel–but it’s different now, before, during, once you get there, once you come back. It really takes the joy out of the equation. I’m not saying it’s anyone’s fault, but between staffing shortages, illogically applied restrictions due to Covid, unavailability of products and services, poor attitudes and service, and more, it’s a lot less joyful. And it makes me not want to travel nearly as much. Which is not great news for the travel industry.

    We were looking at going to Cancun, the six of us, at some point this year. The thought of paying the exhorbitant hotel rates we were seeing in order to get no club lounge service, no or limited housekeeping, the risk of belligerent mask-nazi flight attendants on the way traveling with our twin one-year-olds, and then other assorted difficulties? Nah. We instead rented a beach house we can drive to at our leisure. That would have been close to ten grand we would have spent in flights and hotels, gone–and I promise you it’s because we knew things wouldnt’ be the same, and while some of that is because Covid is Covid, a lot of it is because of the self-inflected wounds of the travel industry.

  21. For anyone wondering about Anti-Vaxx Misinformation Spreader Todd’s latest bleating, here’s the scientist he is touting…seems like MIT would love nothing more than to sever the link between the university and her:

    Her various papers, presentations and essays, formerly archived on her MIT server account, have largely been removed by the university and the links now generate 403 “forbidden access” results. Emails between organic industry representatives and activists at environmental advocacy groups revealed that Seneff’s claims have even been privately dismissed by fellow biotechnology and pesticide critic Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union. Hansen referred to Seneff and her frequent collaborator Anthony Samsel as “loons”, writing that “significant portions of grass roots activists buy into their nonesense…”

  22. For once I agree with Parker although not for the reason he suggested. He infers companies are not allowing personnel to fly because the mask mandate makes people think the danger is imminent. I am self-employed and thus make my own travel decisions. I am vaccinated. Had a mild case of Covid, then had the booster. But I am not wearing a mask just to ride on an airplane. I do all of my travel by car now and have done so all over the central U.S. and most of the south where mask mandates have not been effect or not enforced. I went from Exec Plat 19 years running to 0 flights in the past 2 years simply because I am not going to participate in their circus. And I have enjoyed the freedom from cancelled flights, delays, and the mask police immensely. I doubt I will ever fly as much again but for sure I will not fly as long as mask are required. Covid is here from now forward. Just like the flu there will be some variant every year. Time to treat it for what it has become, an endemic illness. For those who look down their nose and say it is just a piece of cloth, then you wear it and be happy. You are protected from the germs of other people if you wear the right mask. Leave the rest of us out of your nonsense.

  23. DavidF – wow, 64,000 deaths out of 21 million people over 2 years…yes, let’s destroy all lives for .003% of the population, keeping in mind that the .003% were in a very specific demographic of people with pre-existing conditions and advanced age.

    You never answered any of my direct questions – probably because the answers go against your position.

    You also fail to realize that hospitals are financially incentivized to report deaths as COVID because of reimbursement from the federal government.

    I don’t believe there is consensus among the experts, people choose to follow whichever one agrees with them. WHO and CDC say total opposite things at the same time. Just yesterday WHO said all restrictions should be lifted and are ineffective (google it) while the CDC said Americans should avoid international travel due to the dangers.

    Furthermore – why don’t you address the current situation instead, seriousness of the illness, demographics of people who are getting it.

    I also find it hard to believe any Australian state has the same population density as Florida or if your town has the same density and demographics of Miami. Which city/state are you talking about. If it’s as you say, we can’t find out who you are (while you are clearly lying about it anyway) just with DavidF to go on.

  24. It’s not the mask that makes me not want to travel. It is testing to get on the plane, risk of quarantine in a bad overpriced hotel, things shut down or having to show your COVID pass everywhere. So I’ve been traveling a lot domestically. Who knows when international travel will be decent again.

  25. What the Parkers of the world are eventually going to learn is that business travel is NEVER going back to normal. My employer used to spend $50-75k a year flying me around the globe to do my job. In the past two years they spent a grand total of $0. And I probably been at least 95% as effective. The bean counters have realized just how much of a waste a lot of business travel is and they’re not going to allow expenses to return back to that level again now that they’ve seen what we can do remotely. I love the perks of being able to travel for work but once this is all “over” I’ll be lucky if I’m able to do 25% of the travel I used to.

  26. @DavidF You claim that we should keep mask mandates because N95/K95 masks work, but that is a completely irrelevant response, is materially wrong, and in the end wouldn’t matter anyway.

    It’s a non-sequitur to respond about the efficacy of N95/K95 masks, because the mask mandate doesn’t require them, and in fact the great majority of people aren’t wearing them, and wouldn’t wear them due to discomfort, but instead where cloth or surgical masks, which not a single Random Controlled Trial has shown any statistically significant benefit.

    There is precious little evidence that N95/K95 masks work in any material way anyway, but even assuming they did offer some benefit, nobody can or will wear them forever, and when you give up you WILL get omicron just like everybody else (assuming you haven’t already had it). So unless you plan on requiring the world to wear N95/K95 forever, and building lots of prisons for people like me who will never comply, it would be a meaningless and theatrical gesture.

  27. This has largely become a pandemic for the UNvaccinated people. Those people are choosing to take risks and quite frankly, they should just be able to do as they wish. If they get sick and it gets fatal, they took the chance. Those who actually are doing the right thing should not continue to be punished through mandatory testing on international arrivals (if you are fully vaccinated) and yes, masks should be optional. I’m a science-follower (and on the liberal/democratic side of the political spectrum), but those who choose risks should deal with it. Those who do the right thing should be rewarded. I like some of the things that France has done to basically ban any unvaccinated person from pretty much any public venue. Good for them. We’d be much further along if that were the case here.

  28. the highwire dot com slash watch – live discussion right now with Senator Ron Johnson and multiple doctors discussion everything Covid. Looks like we may have a breakthrough…. FDA may actually sit down and talk with the opposing side!

  29. @ Arthur. The same here. I can control whether or not I get vaccinated or wear a mask, but I cannot control whether I will have a positive COVID test. That’s enough to put me off of international travel for a while. I do have a trip to Portugal tentatively planned for this fall, but whether it will happen is an open question. I may well end up canceling it and opting for a road trip instead.

  30. He is correct. Ifind it impossible to sleep with a mask and have refrained from Transatlantic travel

  31. Working in emergency med for over 30 years and dealing with all kinds of things I want you all to know if you believe the masks you are wearing protect you, well ok hope you feel better but they don’t unless they are fitted. We are not traveling on long flights and transatlantic in first class until the mask is gone because it takes away the pleasure of relaxing and hearing the FA talk about masks every five minutes. The mask for children is beyond stupid but who am I, keep drinking the koolaid if you think they work!

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