Airlines Are Exempting Business Class Passengers From Mask Wearing, And It Makes Good Sense

Qatar Airways was the first carrier to allow business class passengers to take off their masks while sleeping. Qatar’s QSuites have doors separating passengrs, though of course these aren’t true ‘rooms’ in that walls do not go to the cabin ceiling.

Cathay Pacific then exempted business class and first class passengers from wearing masks while laying down in bed mode also.

It seems to me that this take is typical,

These new premium cabin mask exemptions are honestly, hilarious. Cathay Pacific’s logic here is essentially, as long as you lie at a 180° angle, you can’t get COVID.

I don’t think it’s hilarious and Cathay’s position isn’t that ‘Covid can’t spread lying down.’

  • There actually is some science behind this. There are barriers on either side of a passenger laying down in bed mode. There haven’t been documented cases of virus spread between rooms or through walls that I can find. That’s not a perfect analogy, but combined with downward cabin airflow this should be prophylactic.

  • And the issue isn’t whether you can ‘get’ Covid-19, the mask mandate is relevant to whether you can spread it. It does seem you’d be much less likely to spread it while low to the ground in bed mode, and asleep with reduced respiratory emissions.

Covid-19 does spread on planes but it’s rare. Low quality masks passengers wear that meet the minimum standard required probably don’t contribute much to overall safety.

Lufthansa no longer allows passengers to wear cloth masks. If you travel you should be wearing better masks whether it’s required or not.

Sleeping without a mask on, with distance and barriers between passengers and with downward air flow, frequent air exchange, and good air filtration is probably just fine. It’s not 100% protection, but masking doesn’t make for 100% protection either.

The primary pushback against letting some passengers take their masks off and not others is solidarity: people who don’t need to wear them must so the people who do feel better about it. It’s awkward to allow some passengers to take their mask off inflight and not others.

What about those who have already recovered from the virus or have been vaccinated? Neither of those is a guarantee against infection, re-infection or spread but it reduces the likelihood, just like greater space in the cabin and downward air flow.

Perhaps a class of service-based exemption is more tenable than a vaccination exception because people who aren’t exempt won’t see those who are taking off their masks inflight in a separate cabin while laying down.

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. @ Gary — I do not believe for one second that passing COVID on a plane is rare. This is utter nonsense propogated by airlines and airplane manufacturers. How many flights have YOU taken since COVID?

  2. Are you aware of any carriers allowing CPAPs to be used in flight in the COVID era? I’ve traditionally used mine for overnight flights but can only imagine that’s not allowed now since there isn’t really a way to wear a surgical style mask over the CPAP mask that exhausts airflow.

  3. Please take this post down. It is filled with misinformation re the efficacy of mask use, the manner in which COVID-19 infection spreads, etc. Unfollowing you on twitter; if you’re so misguided on this critical well-documentedissue, I have no faith in the rest of the info you post

  4. @Gene Can’t speak for Gary but I’ve traveled every day since May. Hotels, rental cars, indoor dining and yes, even airplanes.

    On average about 1 flight per week including overseas. PCR tests +/- twice per month always negative and multiple antibody tests showing zero previous infection.

    As they say, past results are not indicative of future performance. Waiting on a PCR right now for a flight in 36 hours… hopefully I’m not gonna jinx myself with this reply!

    Point is, Covid is a damn mystery. That’s why it’s novel. Experts offer an educated guess. Do I have a pre-existing immunity? Maybe. Is travel safe with proper precautions? Maybe.

    Nobody knows a damn thing for sure. Including you. So climb down off of that high horse and try to enjoy life a bit. I can promise you will die eventually from something just like the rest of us.

  5. The walls work for droplets and not aerosols. You don’t need a special study, it’s physics.

    Would it stop poison gas? If not, why would it stop an aerosol?

  6. My friend is an airline stewardess and has never tested positive nor tested positive for the anti-body. She has flow over 250 times the past 11 months. The masks and covid are a lie.

  7. @Gene, both the DoD and Harvard have released studies on this subject. Gary is spot on with his information. Try a simple Google search and educate yourself.

  8. “Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel” ….I missed the statement about your medical degree or your expertise in epidemiology. Most respectfully, I suggest you keep your comments and opinions to subjects within your expertise. I do not know if you are correct or incorrect about transmission but neither do you. Your analogy about spread between walls , different rooms and business class is ridiculous. A partition is not a wall or a different room. I assume readers value your opinion and perhaps even follow some of your advice.
    Please be more responsible discussing subjects you know nothing about or lack knowledge to formulate an informed opinion. I enjoy reading your site and do find it informative however, when you provide opinions on subjects you know nothing about you run the risk of providing bad information to readers which in this case could be harmful.

  9. @ beachfan – aerosols are droplets, just small ones. They are not a gas. Aerosols have mass and therefore affected by gravity. Spray a room freshener horizontally and you will see the particles already start to fall.

  10. And people walking by in the aisles are not higher than the partitions? Now Now we have an engineering degree? I like you column BUT again please do not defend an indefensible position. You lack the expertise on THIS subject to provide an opinion which others may follow. There is nothing wrong in admitting you should not have provided an opinion on a subject in which you lack any expertise. To justify offering that opinion with a nonsensical response is either arrogance or pride. I do not wish to sound harsh, as I am an avid reader ,but when you cross the line and provide uneducated opinions to the potential detriment of others you should be chastised.

  11. My understanding of the ongoing Israeli studies on the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine (which are the largest epidemiological studies to date) is that, 2 weeks after the second dose, it is more than 94% effective against death and severe infection requiring hospitalization; it is more than 90% effective in preventing any symptomatic infection, and that it substantially reduces the likelihood of transmission, as it significantly decreases the viral load in vaccinated people. See: https://www.jpost.com/health-science/can-a-vaccinated-person-still-spread-coronavirus-660244. See also, https://www.wsj.com/articles/israeli-study-finds-pfizer-shot-equally-effective-for-young-and-old-11614204008, and https://www.ft.com/content/2626ec05-5bc5-4121-afc4-be62c29c4894.

    Gary — your conclusion seems to be spot on.

  12. @dl: if you’re in the aisle, when you are in a higher position, you’re expected to wear a mask. Even when you’re sitting up in the business class seat.

    It’s not binary, it’s all about probabilities and risks and risk minimization, and the data is out there if you read it. For example, research upon research has shown that:

    * It is extremely rare for coronavirus to be transmitted via surfaces. I mean, if someone coughs on a tray table, and then you rub your hands on it, then touch your eye, sure, but apart from that all the people who are wiping everything down before sitting down are wasting their time, compared to wearing a N95 mask which is far more important.
    * Coronavirus transmits more efficiently when you’re breathing heavily, coughing, or talking loudly. When you sleep, your heart rate drops, and your breathing slows.
    * Coronavirus transmits more efficiently indoors with poor air circulation. On a plane, there is good air circulation, with cabin air refreshing every few minutes.
    * Countless people wear masks that are useless. For example, if most neck gaiters shown it *enhances* COVID spread, because it dries out your breath, and then the aerosols are lighter and float better. I get just as scared of people with neck gaiters and valved masks as those who are maskless.
    * Your mask loses efficacy when it gets wet.

    So, absolutely, coronavirus can transmit on planes, but the biggest risk on planes are people sitting in economy seats next to people with neck gaiters or wet masks. Or people with their mask down to eat. (This is why I won’t be doing indoor dining any time soon.)

    Does removing a mask in a business class seat while sleeping increase risk? Yes, absolutely, but relatively speaking, IMO you’d be much better served focusing on efforts to improve mask types and behaviors on economy seats, that is significantly worse. For example, IMO, airlines should hand out 5-ply KN95 masks for everyone. They’re cheap and widely available now.

    In my case, I make it simple—I just don’t like all of these risk calculations, so I won’t fly.

  13. I’ve seen some exceptionally brutal trauma in the Emergency Department/Level 1 Trauma Center, yet it is relatively quick, happened shortly before arriving, has a high level of lack of awareness/consciousness, and the death is fairly straightforward. I’ve never experienced such overwhelmingly brutal death, and to such extent, as Covid patients in the ICU. 500,000 Americans killed, and rapidly counting. We still need extensive and multifaceted actions to prevent even more.

    Anyone who thinks this ‘makes good sense’ is a fucking imbecile, REALLY needs to get a clue, really needs to spend many hours on a treadmill, and really needs to decrease their calorie consumption to decrease their own risk and mortality.

    I’m fully vaccinated, yet my future patients aren’t. Until then, let us act with the sightest modicum of ethics, morality, and decency, and act with concerns for others. It, really, is very simple.

  14. You may can take your mask off on Qatar but you sure as hell are never going to be able to do business on their website that never works! They must have an angry angry IT employee!

  15. Unless the air has an exit from the bottom, there wil lbe upcurrents. Otherwise the air would not have anyplace to go.

    And it isn’t like the aerosol can’t ride an upcurrent before falling out of the air.

  16. More nonsense from Gene ! And yes I have flown at least a dozen or so flights in the past year and have spent 10-15 nights in a hotel.
    Thanks Ryan for setting him straight. Spot on post! Makes complete sense to me Gary. What’s the point in using a lay flat bed if you can’t sleep. I have had to sleep before with a mask on and I got no rest what so ever. Health experts do not recommend it either.

  17. @BigDaddy “It is extremely rare for coronavirus to be transmitted via surfaces. I mean, if someone coughs on a tray table, and then you rub your hands on it, then touch your eye, sure…”

    You seem to be forgetting that people who wear masks are regularly fidgeting/ fingering their masks. How many times have you seen someone touching their masks without having disinfected their hands, and then touch surfaces that unsuspecting others also touch, and these same unsuspecting people then proceed to adjust their masks at some point and repeat the whole gross process all over again? I suspect that cross-contamination in this way is being underplayed.

    To be honest, I can’t really blame people who have to adjust their masks because unlike, for example, surgeons, they are not trained and disciplined in the correct process of donning/wearing/doffing a mask for a prolonged period of time, not to mention that they have not been properly fitted for a mask that they can wear for many hours. Pre-covid, OSHA required the stringest requirements for mask fitting and duration if an employee had to wear one for many hours. Of course now, all these guidelines that have stood and been followed by establishments for many decades have all flown out the window, been scrubbed and changed to fit the CCP virus narrative.

  18. @airgypsy Again, it’s about risk mitigation and application. Most consumer-grade masks are more about reducing *your* germs from being aerosolized (i.e. catch and absorb heavy droplets from your mouth before they dry out), and aren’t as useful in terms of inbound aerosols. And, of course, even that isn’t 100%, but it is significant.

    For that context, it matters much less if you tweak your mask, and IMO it’s better if you are tweaking it to fit better if you are the sick one who’s otherwise silently spreading virus.

    But yes, if you’re looking to protect yourself with a KN95 or N95 mask, then learning proper fit and habits help get you closer to 95% effectiveness. Still, if airlines offered high-quality masks, that could still significantly improve matters, even with uneducated consumers. I’d much rather have someone fidget with their KN95 than to be breathing through a neck gaiter, which as far as I can tell just makes you more of a superspreader.

    (The big wildcard in all this are the new variants and their increased efficacy.)

  19. Gary, you ask me to point to the misinformation you posted? Let’s start with a non-controversial premise: smoking is no longer allowed in planes because the smoke (an aerosol contaminant) can’t be contained to any given section of the plane. But COVID is different how exactly?

    Re: your article misinformation, how about: the statement that masks primarily don’t protect the wearer – WRONG. The protect both wearer + other parties effectively. How about: that b/c HVAC in a plane ‘ flows down’ in a cabin it reduces the aspirated viral load in a closed aerosol environment? WRONG to the point of being cartoonish.

    This entire post + cringeworthy effort to defend it is infantile. Craving engagement doesn’t make being reckless OK. Any way one looks at it, you’re advocating increased passenger risk. That’s a shambolic position to take for an air travel advocate.

    Just take it down. Just stop it.

  20. @RC why so much drama? If you’re so trigger close your browser and spare the rest of us.

    @gary we need to stop this nonsense about indefinite masking. A life of fear is not worth living. Our children are suffering, our relationships are suffering, our economy is suffering. Enough already.

  21. You can wear a cpap machine on planes, my spouse has on 6 different airlines in the last 3 months. For international travel, combined with the testing requirements and mask use, I think the evidence is that there is a pretty small amount of transmission and the risks are pretty low overall. My spouse and I have flown economy and business class, on about 18 flights in the last 3 months. We felt safer in business class, and safer in Delta economy. United, AA, SW in economy were a little sketchy when it came time for people to eat and drink. I think we are starting to see some early indications of herd immunity. However, until everyone over 60 is vaccinated, I’ll still wear a mask in business class. It’s not that big of a deal to wear one.

  22. Last time I checked the people in these seats are not in separate rooms with walls to the ceiling. Sure you can claim masks aren’t 100% but the CDC has shown in recent studies that if both parties wear high quality masks or double mask the protection is like 96.4%, so quite close to 100%

  23. Flown around 10 times, including long haul JFK-DXB in business.

    Yes, you may be able to get covid on a plane though the documented cases are rare. Freely admit, from time to time when sleeping, I pulled off my mask and put a pillow over my face, just to get a free, unobstructed breath. It was heaven during almost 40 hours of travel.

    Still standing. Would and will do it again.

  24. Great post. Traveling weekly since March 2020……
    Safe. Always follow protocol, but sleep with blanket over my head, no mask. Simple

  25. No thanks. I’ll get my science advice from scientists, not from bloggers seeking to build their personas through outrage clicks.

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