Here’s The Next Big ‘Passengers Behaving Badly’ Conflict We’re About To See

With airlines beginning to require passengers to wear face masks on board, we’re about to see a new conflict, because people are just as awful as they used to be. It’s just that there are fewer of them flying.

When American Airlines debated internally whether to require passengers to wear masks, or merely encourage them to (including by providing the masks), the argument that ultimately gave way to a mandate was that cabin crew would be in a position of having to enforce the new rules. And there are always going to be exceptions, which creates grey areas and opportunities for conflict.

Small children aren’t recommended to wear masks due to suffocation risk. There are people whose mental health may be at issue, too.

We’re entering emotional support animal territory as passengers have unseen medical needs, while others might just be claiming to have these needs, and airlines find themselves in a position of trying to adjudicate these claims – even as someone bringing a pit bull on a plane, or failing to wear a mask, causes fear and a backlash from other passengers.

There’s a viral video going around of a woman who is wearing a face mask – but has cut a hole out for her mouth.

This defeats the purpose of wearing a mask. But she is wearing one. Or is she? Is a mask with a cutout for the mouth still a mask? Does it meet airline requirements, or the rules of any given jurisdiction that’s requiring masks for that matter? And is this question about to be adjudicated in airports and passenger cabins around the country?

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. Half expect someone to turn up in a Ku Klux Klan hood, as in a grocery store in California. Probably en route to a rally of the deplorables / or gun-toting anti-lockdown freaks.

  2. As an Asthma sufferer wearing a face mask for extended periods is not as easy as they make it out to be. Most folks with asthma that are asymptomatic and at rest, breathe exclusively through their nose like most people. However, when asthma symptoms increase which can be randomly and is not controlled, most switch to oronasal breathing or breathing through the mouth and maybe the nose. Unlike healthy people without asthma, chronic asthmatic patients also switch to oronasal breathing when wearing a face mask because it is not easy to breathe. I’m not sure if this is because a defense mechanism that kicks in or if it has to do with oxygen levels but just making everyone wear a mask for long periods is a challenge for some. Remember this if your someone like Paolo that hates people and is triggered by a person without a mask. It may not be their fault.

  3. I don’t even know what is reality anymore. People are looking me in the eye and saying this whole thing is fake and people aren’t really dying. It’s insane.

    I understand “freedom” angle with the government imposed lockdowns…but the second a private company asks you to do something, go ahead and comply or don’t buy/use their product.

  4. The face mask rule is going to be tough for trips over three hours. When you need to eat or drink what are you supposed to do? Take off the mask to do it? And then what? You get yelled at? Someone makes a video to shame you?

    I would try to wear the mask the whole time and avoid eating or drinking (kind of impossible on flights over 5 hours though) but I can see this policy really hasn’t been thought through at all.

  5. These rules are reactionary, poorly thought out, and likely will accomplish very little. Once long-haul flying begins to return, these rules will be even more insane, as the health consequences of rebreathing CO2 at altitude for 8+ hours have the potential to be significant. Many epidemiologists as well as the WHO have questioned whether face covers offer any benefit at all, and if they are removed for periods of time anyway (which they will have to be to allow for eating/drinking) all we have done is provided another conflict point (between tyrant FAs and passengers as well as between passengers themselves) for nothing. Security theater, meet health theater.

  6. At this point, let the loud mouth idiots who think it’s fake get it and we get to refuse them medical treatment. If you know someone who has even had a mild case it COVID-19, it’s far from fake. These are most likely the same people who think the German concentration camps and moon landing didn’t happen.


  7. Every walk of life has its idiots. But last I checked, American-based airline hardware was private property, so they can put in place any rules they want. Heck, if you don’t wanna wear the mask, that should make you eligible for plan B: Body Cavity Search.

  8. I am inclined to agree with DaninMCI. This woman looks like she had trouble breathing through the mask she brought.

  9. If you can’t wear a mask and do not have a sincere medical issue such as a trach, deformity etc, just don’t fly.
    It’s a privilege, not a right.
    Wearing a mask might reduce the number of drunks on the plane. This will not be forever.
    Put a mask in a toddler. You tell them they need to wear the mask and a seatbelt to fly. No problem. Ask this of an adult. All hell breaks loose.

  10. Airlines are allowing people to take off the masks for meals (not sure if that is only airline supplied food or if you still be able to carry on food). Also there is beverage service so masks have to be removed for that as well.

    I plan to wear a loose cotton mask if this is still in effect next time I fly (not until fall at earliest) and bring along a metal straw I can snake under it since I will be in first class and as Long as there is a beverage service I will find a way to drink

  11. Paolo says: Half expect someone to turn up in a Ku Klux Klan hood, as in a grocery store in California. Probably en route to a rally of the deplorables / or gun-toting anti-lockdown freaks.

    @Paolo, always remember that everyone who disagrees with you is “probably” racist and definitely a “deplorable”.

  12. I think wearing a mask on an airplane makes sense – BUT it’s not practical, for the reasons many have mentioned. For a short flight, maybe. For a long flight – impossible. And no one with a brain thinks this whole thing is a hoax – but many of us think governments have overreacted based on early models that proved wildly wrong. The “scientists” have scared people so badly that rational thought and statistical evidence can’t get through the hysteria.

  13. I am glad to see so many sane and rational people posting here.

    Currently I am staying with my elderly (83, 82) parents in Florida. My father, not one of those MAGA types, believes his right to do as he chooses trumps (pun intended) the welfare of society in general. According to him, Covid19 is one big conspiracy “by them” to keep Americans controlled and deprived of their freedom. When pressed, my father can’t say who “them” is; all he knows is that he is being deprived of his golf game, his afternoon at the clubhouse bar, and his opportunity to socialize with his geezer friends. When went to his doctor the other day for a check-up, he was furious when he was told to put on a mask to protect himself and others. Who the he!! is he to be told what to do?

    But if and when he—obese, hypertensive, and type A blood–becomes seriously ill with this virus, he will be the first to demand his “right” to be medically treated at any and all cost to the American public.


  14. To AC above… Most airlines are not offering any beverage service anymore… It is by request only from the passenger but no longer the standard

  15. Hey Paolo I see ur still drinking that TDS coolaid. You need help buddy!

  16. I read medical literature. A recent study found surgical masks only filter 2% of particulate matter; i.e., no likely benefit. I’m tempted to wear a shear nylon stocking as my “facial covering” — that’s compliant, right, & as effective. BTW, the study also tested coffee filters & furnace filters (somewhat effect but difficult to breath).

  17. I understand the need to wear mask, but even going to the store I wear them ,I have to pull it up and down because I feel phobic. I wish I didn’t, but I do. I travel international once or twice a year, it is not way I could wear them for 10 hours or more. Somebody said it is a privilegde no a right. Well I think that was very unfriendly . Please let me know what you think. Thank you

  18. @Robin,
    …The “scientists” have scared people so badly that rational thought and statistical evidence can’t get through the hysteria….

    Couldn’t agree more. Same thing with the “global cooling/global warming/climate change” cult. Crying wolf is only going to make a real catastrophe in the future a lot worse.

  19. @JimmieA

    It’s understandable for people to be upset with the power grab by government to the point that people have been arrested for voluntarily and consensually meeting friends and family on private property. When according to the CDC, 2.7 million people died in 2017, 70,000 dead so far is not reason to be comfortable with the government violating fundamental freedoms. No number is a reason to be ok with government infringement of fundamental freedoms.

    Coronavirus disproportionately affects the elderly and those with preexisting conditions like obesity, diabetes, respiratory issues or being immunocompromised. It’s one thing for government to shutdown but to prevent people from making choices for their own lives and taking the risks they deem worthwhile is not acceptable in a free society. It hasn’t been a free society in 100 years but certainly Coronavirus has made it worse. If you feel you are not comfortable with taking the risk then stay at home. I do. I just go to the post office and supermarket and wear PPE at all times. But if people want to do otherwise they should not be stopped by cops blindly enforcing draconian decrees by mayors and governors.

  20. Can’t fix stupid.. and there are SO many stupid people out there…Just waiting for one to “sue” the airlines for not preventing them from getting the virus..

  21. Damn straight- Communist talk to make people wear masks. While you are at it, remember it was the nasty socialist government that passed all these seat belt laws. Exercise your God given right to leave your seatbelt unfastened while on a plane, or heck, even while driving. There’s 60,000 automobile deaths a year- obviously seatbelts don’t stop vehicle deaths.

    Also, smoking- did you know 2 out of 3 smokers do not get lung cancer? Rediculous to have a government propaganda campaign against smoking- it’s unconstitutional! Heck, 5 out of 6 Russian Roulette players come out just fine- it’s all a hoax that sticking a gun in your mouth and having a spin is fatal!

  22. @yosemite Sam; thanks, I needed that.

    Yep, I got my God given right to set up bear traps around my yard. Someone’s kid wanders into my yard, say chasing a ball or whatever, and gets bit by my bear trap, their problem. It’s my land (suburban plot, quarter acre, man) and I got my rights. Damnit, I want a haircut! Who are these godless commies to tell me what to do on my own property? Hell, if I want to kill my tigers I got a right to do so!

  23. someone told me is a mask is like this a guy wearing underwear. IF he pisses and has briefs on changes on it will not get on you. IF you have briefs on also then there is a greater chance it will not get on you also.

    Sounds crude but it is true. If you don’t want to be pissed on by someone else then wear a mask just in case they have a leak.

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