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.