Betting Markets Say Masks On Planes Will Be Gone Before Election Day

I’ve argued for a year that the time to expect mask mandates to be lifted for planes would be before the mid term elections. It’s not case counts or hospitalization that will drive an end to pandemic rules, as much as political necessity.

That’s because rules tend to stay in place longer than they’re needed when left up to government bureaucracies. Right now we’re just past the peak of the Omicron wave of the pandemic, and the administration has just started sending out Covid tests two years into Covid. The safety narrative is something institutions still need to follow if they’re national, or in many Blue States, rather than located in Red States.

But the upcoming elections will be focal. With control of both houses of Congress up for grabs, the party currently in power needs to declare victory over the virus. And there are symbols of that victory.

The current transportation mask mandate runs through March 18, 2022. It may well be extended, even though we’ll likely be past the current wave. Culturally, blue states may expect it. Sara Nelson will lobby for it.

Maska have some benefit, even in the context of HEPA air filtration and downward air flow that make planes safer environments than restaurants and bars. If you want that benefit wear a good mask! A cloth mask that satisfies the requirement may be more comfy but offers relatively little protection (to you, or from you).

When the requirement will end, though, is the question.

Currently Polymarket betting says there’s a 58% chance the federal transportation mask mandate will be gone on November 8, 2022. (HT: Zvi)

With the U.K., Denmark, and the Netherlands lifting Covid-19 restrictions these odds seem low to me. Currently betting markets favor a Republican takeover of the House and the Senate (even though Republicans have to defend far more seats in the Senate).

The facts on the ground with the pandemic should favor an end to mandates, even though there’s a scenario where that isn’t true.

  • booster shots continue to work well against Omicron, and we may have variant-specific or multivariant boosters by summer
  • much greater supply of Paxlovid available to keep people with symptomatic Covid out of the hospital
  • substantial background immunity from prior infection as a result of successive waves of the virus

Betting markets currently have the U.S. staying over 100,000 daily cases through March, making an end to the mandate on March 18 seem unlikely.

However being in a position where the mandates are hard to justify shortly after that, and where it’s possible for government leaders to claim victory, should mean that if the mandate is extended again that the next time is the last time – changing the narrative as November midterms approach.

And since American Airlines has said they’d keep alcohol out of coach until the mask mandate is lifted, we’ll all be able to raise a glass when this happens.

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, 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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  1. It would be about fn time. but of course, it would be a political move, not a scientific one. Had it been scientific, there would never have been a mandate in the first place.

  2. I would not be traveling right now if there were not a mask mandate on planes. If you don’t believe that, consider that I still have not once eaten indoors in a restaurant since covid (even while traveling I only eat outdoors or in my room). There are many like me. The posts on this blog fail to consider how important this issue is to many of us and how concerned we are about public health.

  3. @Jeff – and you are welcome to keep your mask on whilst you travel, regardless of any dictates. But for the rest of us who have been vaxxed please keep your phobias to yourself and let us live a normal-ish life again

  4. Maybe in the US, but I believe the European airlines will keep them.

    Now, most require N95, not clothe. Smart.

  5. In the early days of Covid–before the vaxxes and therapies, before we even knew what we were dealing with–yes, masking made sense (although why there wasn’t a push for the N/Kn95s, who can say). But now the virus seems to have mutated into something less deadly, and many if not most of us have some kind of built-up immunity, masking doesn’t make sense in most settings.

    When I travel, I will continue to mask in crowded environments. Subways, coach class flights–heck yes, but only because I don’t want to catch anything, be it a cold or flu or TB (which is rearing its ugly head again) no matter where in the world I go.

    Bigger thanks for the link to Polymarket betting. Lately I’ve lot a lot of money on my investments; hope to make it up on this site. My bet is before travel season hits–June/July of this summer is when we will see mask policy adjusted.

  6. The cold reality is that there are far fewer of the “Jeff’s” in the world than there are people who are opting out of air travel (or are at least opting out of high-profit domestic first class with no tangible benefit) due to the mask mandate.

    Mask mandates are more about optics than anything else, since anyone genuinely concerned about infection can wear N95s or double mask to protect themselves. I’m certain that lifting the mandate will cause some consternation and bad press in the Covid-paranoid world, but this won’t be nearly as politically damaging as having the rule in place come election time. I’m sure there’s also a desire to try to minimize the political force by putting some distance between the actual lifting of the mandate and Election Day. My best guess is sometime in May.

  7. It’s hard to say. Changing the damn testing to come back to the U.S. by air from 3 to 1 days is not a good sign. I think though, for better or worse, if politicians run on ending a lot of requirements they’ll get plenty of votes. That could push the Administration in the same direction if only to undercut the promises made by opponents. The whole system does seem to be getting pretty creaky…as I’ve asked before, how long has it been since social distancing was taken seriously in stores and the like? I’ve traveled all over the U.S. and have not seen it done anywhere. And while the CDC list of more highly infected countries may have good intentions, moving this place up or down becomes sort of pointless. It’s a bit like the boy who cried “Wolf”. After a while nobody listens.

  8. Rehashing the same “masks and politics” post every week or so stirring up your 50-100 comments.

    I get more travel news on politico.

  9. Isn’t the current mask mandate an Executive Order (vs. law passed by Congress)? If so, then it doesn’t matter what happens in the Senate/House, but rather the White House, so we’ll be having masks for another 3 years.

  10. @Mjonis it’s an administrative rule, not an executive order. However it’s not *who wins* the election, but the political imperative of the election that I argue will bring an end to requirements. In other words, not science but politics. Democrats will want to declare victory over the virus before the election as they fight to retain control of both houses of Congress.

  11. @Jeff – If you’re scared, you can stay the hell home and hide under the bed for the rest of your life. The rest of us want to live.

  12. Logical people knew all along – masks do nothing.

    This was obvious in the data from day 1.

    And now, those same anti-science people hold on to their masks – as ridiculous symbols of safety.

    The sooner this country splits up into many – the sooner the anti science, pro-censorship morons can have their own insane asylum. Let the rest of us normal people live our lives without the government boot on our necks.

    (also, I am on an international flight right now, heading to the US. I bought those ‘Fake Masks’ – so, it’s easy breathing when someone requires a mask. You can basically see my face through it, but, it ‘complies’)

  13. Yeah @Jeff – if you are vaxed, boosted and wear a mask yourself what do you actually think your statistical odds of getting the virus are? then, on top of that, are you in a high risk group (over 75, obese, pre-existing conditions…) – if not, can you please tell us exactly your concern, what it’s based on and why the rest of us have to adjust our lives because of your irrational fears? And the ‘many people like you’ – they can stay home too if they don’t understand data and just want to blindly listen to some official whose views justify their paranoia. Let’s face it, anyone still afraid of the virus is showing irrational paranoia and the – they will just quote some number of deaths over a two year period with no understanding of what those numbers actually mean (or that they are skewed by hospitals that are motivated financially to report things as COVID) and think those deaths were the direct result of people not wearing masks.

    The CDC is a bunch of complete morons, they keep putting out the travel ‘danger’ lists based on absolutely nothing other than some numbers that they refuse to put in context. Even WHO says the travel restrictions and mask mandates are pointless.

    While everything about the virus is politics and economics now, it’s too little too late to help the democrats – fortunately it looks like they will be slaughtered in the midterms and we can get a party in charge who will end this craziness and give money back to the police to we can live safely in our cities (#canceldefundthepoliceidiots). All the independents who switched blue because Trump was such a disaster (really only in the end), are probably regretting that and can’t wait to go the other way. Let SFO and CHI continue burn as reminders how stupid the woke policies of the blue people are – eventually they will be begging for republicans to come in and save their cities if everyone with money hasn’t already left.

  14. Just like the FDA approving Pfizer emergency vaccine 6 days after the November 2020 elections. It’s all about politics at this point.

  15. US domestic air travel was often pretty crazy crowded last year as soon as vaccines became widely available. My local airport in May had more people than you’d usually see during the Thanksgiving rush. Anyone who thinks that a significant number of people aren’t flying right now because they don’t want to wear a mask really needs to get out of the OAN bubble. I’m not saying people like wearing them but that 99% of the people out there are willing to tolerate them, roll their eyes a bit and then get on with their travel day.

  16. @Beachmouse –

    Pax volumes really don’t tell the story. Sure, there were plenty of planes full of pax flying deeply-discounted fares to Florida and the like that will begrudgingly mask up (or assault an FA) – but this is hardly the kind of travel that sustains the air and hotel industries. What you didn’t see were full planes flying business routes (i.e. CHI-NYC, BOS-DEN, etc.) with high-margin fares. To say nothing of the transcontinental premium flights that represent over 35% of legacy carrier’s profit. This is the travel that is basically sidelined until the mandate goes away. From reading though the earnings reports of DL, AA, UA, and a few others, these types of fares have yet to break 25% of pre-pandemic share of overall volume. That’s a whole lot of money and a significant number of voters.

  17. High volume business travel comes back when the large company risk management departments think it’s acceptable again. What individual business flyers think of masks in flight isn’t going to significantly move that needle

  18. One of the major problems with government bureaucracies at any level is that there is no reward for saying ‘yes’, and there’s no penalty for saying ‘no’.

  19. i’m fortunate in that i am able pay for international first and business class tickets – and i won’t go near an airplane – let alone pay those fares if i’m forced to cover my face – there are a lot of people like me – the airlines know it – and they are quietly behind the scenes lobbying to stop this nonsense – so we can get on with moving money around again

  20. John – I’m with you on that. The continued testing, mask, entry requirements are absolutely pointless…there is no data that shows they work or accomplish anything other than hurt busniess and inconvenience people. Unfortunately, unless you are a minority, an illegal immigrant (I have absolutely no problem with anyone from anywhere who wants to come live here through the proper channels) or a criminal – the current administration will not do anything for you other than increase your chances of being the victim of a crime. Just today Biden said “we have a way to go” on lifting COVID restrictions! What the hell is this guy thinking? What data is he looking at? the real irony is that the COVID policies have only hurt the blue states/cities…I guess that’s kind of what you want when you depend on people being poor to get their votes because you’ll keep giving them handouts and not hold them accountable for crime. Can’t wait until Jan ’23. If republicans are not stupid enough to let Trump run again (and the dem actually pick Hillary or Harris), they’ll win by a landslide in ’24.

  21. @Jeff. Totally agree with you. And off to unsubscribe to the VFTW newsletter and stop listing this site. Used to be civil, but has dropped into the political muck. Goodbye Gary. You are mostly fine, but the comments make Twitter look polite of late. Sorry, Jeff, for the responses you are getting.

  22. My only real comment here that no one but Gary mentions is that it is utterly stunning to me just how much power and influence Sara Nelson has. What role is SHE gunning for? Because FA isn’t what she has been about in a long time–whatever your opinion on masks.

  23. The mask mandate is obviously symbolic. If it really was about safety a quality mask or preferably a vaccination would be required. Since it’s symbolic, it will be a political decision when ending the mandate will be done. With the air filtration systems passenger aircraft have, that is already a far safer indoor setting than just about anywhere else, and the risks are vanishingly small if you yourself are fully vaccinated and wearing a quality mask. At some point, governments will have to admit that the public will not put up with eternal disruptions to their lives, and that’s when the politics will dictate an end to most mask mandates. My guess is around May.

  24. Once the mask mandates finally expure, i fully expect to see this bumper sticker show up soon

    Pry my mask from my cold dead hand.

    People are attached to them like their binkies.

  25. The unions, especially Sara Nelson, will fight to the bitter end to keep masks in place for the simple reason that if masks go, that means the airlines will then want to reinstate inflight service & we know the FA’s are bitterly opposed to that. They’re still mad they aren’t able to work from home!

  26. If they go away I will continue to wear my N-95 unless until a lot more people are vaccinated. Many highly respected infectious disease doctors I know won’t fly without a mask and won’t eat at an indoor restaurant.

  27. @Charlie M – don’t worry, Blue states year over year have far higher GDP/growth rates than Red states, and are net “makers” vs. Red-state “takers”.

    Oh, and it’s House Republicans that actually put their money where their mouths are to defund the police (See: American Rescue Plan).

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