Flight attendants unions are pushing to extend the federal transportation mask mandate which is currently set to end March 18. But their members are far from all on board.
I’ve heard from several flight attendants, and watched discussions in social media, where they’re up in arms over their union leaders pushing for this requirement – because they’re tired of wearing masks on planes themselves.
- Flight attendants have to wear masks far more often than passengers do. They travel on far more flights than even the most frequent customers.
- They feel the mask mandate has become harder to enforce. In 2020, before vaccines, masks gave customers confidence to fly. Now they’ve tired of them. And with the recent return of predeparture beverages in first class on American, the bulk of passengers watch maskless premium passengers as they board with their masks on.
- The past couple of years have been stressful with a rise in inflight passenger incidents. The vast majority of incidents reported to the government have involved masks. They’re tired of enforcing the mask rule and confronting passengers, and believe their job will get easier once the rule is allowed to lapse.
These crewmembers are frustrated because since their unions are pushing federal mask requirements, they’re being blamed – when they wish the rules would go away, too.
As I’ve written for a year, the mask mandate will not be permanent (despite what some public health officials prefer). It will end for political reasons. That may not happen March 18 – my own guess has been a two month extension because the Biden administration is scared to lift it and get surprised by a new variant, and then take political hits ‘for being wrong’. (The better approach, of course, is to impose restrictions that are temporary based on actual science.)
However the administration needs to declare victory on the pandemic and take credit for that, rather than being the forces imposing restrictions and the focus of voter frustration. The mask rule automatically ends when the Secretary of Health and Human Services rescrinds the termination under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 247d) that a public health emergency exists.
I was a big proponent of masks in March 2020 when flight attendants weren’t permitted to wear them. In much of 2020 the airline rule for masks made some sense and helped give customers confidence to fly.
But aircraft cabins do have HEPA air filtration and downward air flow. Vaccines and boosters are widely available. Even Paxlovid availability to treat Covid-19 has opened up. And 49 states do not have indoor mask requirements at this point. Passengers can still protect themselves with well-fitting N95 masks, which are available now too. Requiring cloth masks for cabin crew makes even less sense than requiring them of passengers.