No Longer Needed Government Mask Mandate Extended Through September 13

The Biden administration has extended the federal transportation mask mandate through September 13. This covers air travel as well as trains, rideshares, and buses. It was set to expire May 11.

There was never any question this was going to happen,

  • Airlines and unions were lobbying for it, rather than against it

  • The end of the mask mandate will be a symbolic way for the President to declare victory against the pandemic, which we’re not yet in a place for.

Mask rules made a lot of sense when airlines instituted them. I argued for masks when airlines were still prohibiting employees from wearing them. And I’ve argued that people should have been wearing better quality masks throughout the pandemic, and learning to wear them properly (there are simple YouTube videos!).

When airlines began requiring masks that gave customers confidence to fly. They may have found the requirement annoying to comply with, but overall knowing that everyone else would be wearing a mask made customers more comfortable.

Now that every adult in the U.S. who wants a vaccine can get one there’s no longer a reason to require them.

  • The mRNA vaccines are incredibly effective at protecting people from infection, sickness, and negative outcomes. Most who have been vaccinated have little to fear.

  • Those who haven’t been vaccinated are making that choice and shouldn’t be imposing a cost on others. Even without a mandate, passengers can still wear masks.

What is it Milton Friedman used to say, that nothing is as permanent as a temporary government program?

There are a very limited number of people for whom vaccines may not be indicated or may be less effective. The argument being made for the mandate, though, isn’t to protect those people so they can fly worry-free.

Children can’t yet get vaccinated but children are at statistically lower risk than vaccinated older Americans anyway. For young kids Covid-19 is less of a risk than many of the things we accepted already as background, pre-pandemic. And most evidence suggests they’re less likely to spread the virus as well. (Mask requirements for two year olds was always silly, Delta’s policy to exempt young children made far more sense before it was outlawed.)

The world continues to battle Covid-19, and as long as there are so many people with the virus there are hosts within which it can mutate. That presents a risk, even an outside risk of vaccine escape. If such variants develop and become dominant mask mandates can be re-imposed until booster vaccines for them are ready.

The mask mandate though should sunset, based on science of the virus that is actually circulating, availability of vaccines in the United States, and date on their effectiveness – rather than being extended based on hypotheticals.

We’ll see an end to the mandate eventually. It’s unclear whether that will happen in September, though it will happen for certain when the President declares victory over Covid-19 because the CDC rules that TSA mandates are based on are set up that way – and because it will be a symbolic win for the President to do so. We’ll certainly see the mandate lifted before the 2022 midterm elections.

Nonetheless during flu season I’ll almost certainly wear a mask myself, now that it’s socially acceptable to do so, because I really hate the inconvenience of getting sick.

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. I think September is a good time to sunset it. As you mentioned, a good 20% of the population isn’t able to get vaccinated yet and probably won’t be for a few more months. Plus it takes up to 6 weeks to be fully vaccinated. Additionally, there are some people who cannot get vaccinated right now – college students whose 2nd dose would be at the end of term or finals week. If I became eligible April 19th while a college student, I’d be waiting until the end of May when the semester was over before even considering getting vaccinated.

    Also, there is the fact that being vaccinated does not stop you from contracting COVID or dying from it. Almost 80 fully vaccinated people have so far.

    Give the mask mandate through summer, help get cases and deaths under control (we still have ~5,000 people/week reported dead from this!), and then look at removing it.

  2. Friends have been able to get an appointment for late May or in June. Depending where you live and age, not everyone can just walkup to a vaccination center and get a shot.

    Given how the flu season starts in October, I wouldn’t be surprised if people opt to wear masks in planes during flu season especially since it’s quite likely covid will become endemic.

  3. Milton Friedman is one of the greatest economist ever. Not this clown Keynes.
    Of course, governments typically love Keynes and not Friedman as the former advocates printing “free money” (“deficits don’t matter!”) while the latter denounces that nonsense.

  4. If only we had assurance that this mandate will be rescinded September 13…but then flu season starts, providing another excuse to extend it. I have to agree with Gary almost 100% on this; Friedman’s quote couldn’t be more appropriate. I will probably continue to wear a mask past September (notice how there was almost NO flu season this year?) but that would be my choice. I’m all for masking (when needed) and vaccines (without question…I’ve been fully vaccinated since February) but I’m really had it with COVID “theater”.

  5. I disagree. While the vaccine may be available, there is a sizable group that elect not to get vaccinated for a variety of reasons.

    Those who don’t get vaccinated pose a threat to everyone. Neither the vaccine nor a mask is an absolute guarantee that you won’t get infected.

    I don’t want an unvaccinated person sitting behind me and breathing on me without a mask.

  6. Glad this came out today as I was mulling over two J class tickets to Europe for a Labor Day vacation. Now I think I’ll just stay and perhaps help out the local economy a little as wearing a mask for 10 hours is just no fun for me at least.

  7. Every adult in the country is now able to SCHEDULE a shot, it doesn’t mean that every adult has been able to get a shot. We are not quite fully there yet on having enough supply for everyone, but now any adult who wants it and can find it can get it, they don’t have to have any certain conditions or qualifications, plus now that anyone can get it if they can find it, it still would take another 5-6 weeks for it to be effective, so we are nowhere close to having sufficiently vaccinated the adult population yet, and it is not because people have chosen not to get it. So, the entire premise for your post is completely inaccurate, and I know you know that, so I’m not sure why you decided to write this post, but at least now you definitely know in case you didn’t already.

  8. I’m a UChicago grad and attended Friedman’s lectures. But I emphatically do see a need for masks. The Indian double-mutation is quite worrisome, with evidence that it infected a number of VACCINATED Israeli tourists. Why take chances before that is sorted out? Do you have an idea how many Indian-Americans travel between here and India every day?

  9. @TheJetsFan, I don’t want an unvaccinated person sitting next to me, full stop. The vaccines are incredibly effective and as long as we permit unvaccinated people to force policies on us, we will never be able to resume our real lives. As of about mid-June when anyone who wants a vaccine will have been able to get the full course, vaccination should be required as a condition for flying, until herd immunity is achieved, which will happen a lot more quickly to the benefit of everyone if we stop catering to that group. I would exempt children under 16 from such a policy until they can get vaccinated. Those who choose not to be vaccinated can drive a car or walk.

  10. I’m just not sure how being required to wear a mask is legally untenable or morally wrong.

    Given the way that the virus can destroy bodies, and because there is a sizable population that can’t get vaccinated (because they are immunocompromised), it makes sense to keep the mask mandate in place so that they have the freedom to board a plane. There is nothing unconstitutional for requiring any clothing for health reasons, as health codes already require things such as shoes in restaurants. While most people not wearing shoes in restaurants won’t result in any serious harm, every once and a while, it can. Given that coronavirus is much more statistically likely to hurt someone than diseases from not wearing shoes in a restaurant, I see no reason why there shouldn’t be a mask mandate, particularly since a sizable portion of the population refuses to get vaccinated. I might not want to wear shoes, but I still have to because of government laws and respect for my neighbor. There’s nothing wrong with being required to wear a mask. It’s not about freedom/rights/etc., it’s about just not wanting to wear a mask.

    I get that it’s annoying…but out of respect for others, I wear it. Even though I’m vaccinated, that doesn’t mean that I can just throw it off, because there’s something American about coming together and getting something done, not just focusing on ourselves. That’s just me though.

  11. HT – it is just you. I’m vaccinated and have zero sympathy for those that refuse to get it. I wear a mask if required but as soon as it isn’t required I won’t wear it (and take it off the second I walk out of a door now).

    Not my job to protect others and at some point there will be backlash against the mask mandate when 60-70 percent (or more) of the population is vaccinated and a sizable percentage of those who refuse to get it likely have had COVID so have natural immune. Don’t read all the worst case scenarios – that will basically be hers immunity and if Biden doesn’t lift it the consequences in the 2022 midterms will be severe.

    Also people will continue to get sick and some will die (just like w the flu and many other diseases) but you can’t inconvenience everyone just to save a few.

  12. Jim F, there was no flu this year because of travel bans, not because of masks. Lack of travel from the Southern Hemisphere to the northern hemisphere interrupted the normal transmission of influenza.

  13. To all those looking for an “absolute guarantee” that they will not get infected I have one question–how the heck do you rationalize getting on an airplane, bus, or even ride in a car??? It is a statistical certainty that some of the people that choose do participate in those 3 activities will die as a result of doing so. Maybe you are more interested is signalling that you are one of the really gooooood people.

  14. More and more studies are coming out about how covid is impacting children. If you are going to let unvaccinated people on the planes then people have to wear the masks until the pandemic is over. Michigan was seeing record highs of children being hospitalized and there are studies coming in around the world concerning children having long haul issues with covid. With the variants children are indeed a spreader of the virus. Maybe get updated information before pontificating about things that you clearly don’t understand.

  15. Correct @Bill. A school in our district had an outbreak of cases among the elementary age, masked kids. That spread to two vaccinated parents. So neither being vaccinated nor being a kid means you won’t get infected or infect others. I don’t get the whining about masks. No way do I want any unmasked travelers breathing moistly on me in an enclosed space any time soon. I’ve flown a few dozen flights this past year with no infection and I have no intention of changing that. If I see some idiot pulling his mask down incessantly or wearing it below his nose, I change seats. It’s not such an inconvenience and not an infringement of your rights so get over it. Could well be a year or two more we need to protect one another. Get used to it and man (or woman) up. Stop being selfish.

  16. You lose credibility when you say we can reimpose a mandate if the virus mutates. If we just keep wearing a mask, then we don’t have to worry about mutations in the first place. And as much as my daughter would like to get vaccinated, she can’t because she has leukemia. I would hope that everyone could wear a mask to help protect her and anyone else who sincerely can’t get vaccinated.

  17. To Dave S
    The shot is still in trial!!! Stop with the Bull shit of everyone getting It
    I am not going to be a test subject and maybe you should be the one to drive not the smart people that want to wait and see who it effects the idiots that believe Bill Gates and that BS doctor

  18. At this point COVID-19 is now playing a vital role in protecting us as a species. Now that a vaccine is both available, and has lead to the ability to quickly make safe vaccines for future viruses/strains….only the stupid amongst us will refuse to get vaccinated. Therefore COVID is helping to cull the stupid population, which are a far greater risk to society than any virus has, is, or ever will be. Ending the mask mandate will only serve to further this worthwhile course of natural selection….and I am all for it. Less stupid people inflicting damage on society, less of them breeding and creating even more stupid populations in the future is a good thing!

    All this talk of protecting those who have special risks like the immunocompromised is all BS as well. If someone is at special risk for any communicable disease, they have no business on anything outside a medical flight in the first place. If they elect to take the risk of flying against medical advice….see paragraph one.

    The vaccines are available to every adult now…..many states that have already vaccinated their willing populations have opened up their clinics to those out of state that need to be vaccinated. If we wanted to do the right thing for society….we would lift all these mandates in the minimum time it takes for anyone to get vaccinated from today. Only those who blindly want to enforce their will on others to make themselves feel good or are too dumb to understand simple logic will argue for longer mandates….they only hurt society as a whole.

    We should be telling everyone….If you aren’t willing to go do the right thing for the greater good and receive the vaccine, guess what. You are on your own in 6 weeks….like it or not.

  19. lol @DaveS.

    Been traveling full time for the last year. No vaccine, no intention of getting one.

    Busses, Ubers, Airplanes. Dozens of countries, all over the world.
    Have no intention of bothering, either.

    I’ll take a plane, and I’ll be in J or F @DaveS. Airlines want my money, and no one cares about your ridiculous fear mongering.

  20. Agreed @daves. Clearly people like @carolyn are why we aren’t going to be through this anytime soon. Wonder if she wears a mask or thinks the vaccine has a tracking device.

  21. Airlines put up with this because they just received billions more taxpayer money. Masks say that all is not well and lots of people, including many companies, will not travel until masks are gone – and with them the symbol that the world is not safe, whether it really is or not.
    There is no free “mask safety.” Every American continues to pay.

  22. I am surprised at the missing information in the rationale you give Gary, for ending the mask mandate on airplanes. Some 20% to 30% of the population are deciding NOT to get vaccinated, nor do they intend to ever do so. This resistance is even higher in certain parts of the country. Herd immunity has not happened yet, nor are we sure when the virus will be “beaten” in this way. So Coronavirus and its variants will definitely be circulating with us for a while longer. Additionally, vaccination only provides 90% immunity, so 10% of those vaccinated are susceptible to infection, though in MOST cases, in a more minor form. Continuing mask requirements offers some small degree of protection from others SPREADING the virus, even though it makes less sense for us NEEDING protection. While air circulation/filtration on airplanes is very good; it does not offer total protection from viral spread, and it only takes that one (perhaps asymptomatic) seatmate to infect you. Better they be required to be masked for now, to better improve your odds.

  23. I have to disagree with you, Gary.
    Just be vaccines are available, it simply doesn’t make sense to arbitrarily choose a date to lift the mask mandate. If we really want to follow the science, then lifting the mask mandate should really be based on COVID-19 transmission rates. When transmission rates have dropped so far as to pose no significant risk of harm to the average person, masks would no longer be necessary. I’m not an epidemiologist, so I don’t know what that rate signifies true herd immunity. I just don’t think we’re there yet.

  24. It is unfortunate that there are more than a few people who are too selfish to want to protect others. I can certainly understand the airline employees wanting everyone on board to wear masks. They are the ones who get close to almost every passenger, some of whom are likely infected whether they know it or not.
    Remember that there is an excellent chance that doctors, researchers and scientists are smarter than you are.

  25. I totally agree. Where one if you want, dont where one if you want. You have the choice to fly or not fly so don’t punish those who wish to fly mask free.

  26. @T. Jones – no, transmission rates alone don’t tell you whether mask mandates make sense.

    First, there’s little risk to hospital capacity.

    Second, there’s little chance – according to the CDC director – that vaccinated people will get or spread the virus. So for them masks aren’t helpful, nor meaningfully protective of others.

    So the issue is, do we make everyone wear masks to protect those who refuse to get vaccinated from other people who choose to get vaccinated?

    [Don’t come back at me with kids, or immune compromised, without addressing the arguments in the post]

  27. @bo – “If we just keep wearing a mask, then we don’t have to worry about mutations in the first place”

    That’s just false. We have the “Brazilian variant” and the “South African variant” for a reason, masking in the U.S. didn’t prevent those mutations from occurring.

  28. I am not getting the vaccine and I hardly wear the mask unless I have no choice. It’s not my job or obligation to protect others form a virus that has a survival rate of over 99%. If you have other health issues or underlying conditions, stay home.

    -Your Mom

  29. @DaveS says ” I don’t want an unvaccinated person sitting next to me, full stop.”

    That’s literally like saying I don’t want a person with certain skin color sit next to me. Guess what we live in a free society, either learn to co-exist or feel free to stay at home. You can’t force others to do something just so that you feel safe. That’s not how it works and definitely not in America.

    I’m fully vaccinated but there are others who have different beliefs or whatsoever their reason maybe. its their decision and our laws says one is not guilty until proven guilty. Not the other way around.

  30. “Airlines and unions were lobbying for it, rather than against it”

    Stop subsidizing these bastards with our tax dollars and they will change their tune overnight.

  31. “@DaveS says ” I don’t want an unvaccinated person sitting next to me, full stop.”

    That’s literally like saying I don’t want a person with certain skin color sit next to me.”

    I’ve never seen a stupider, more disingenuous quote in the history of the internet. Did your parents just hit you in the head with a hammer for 20 years straight? How did you become this hellhole of a human being?

  32. Many have their own thoughts but let us explore some more

    1. What if the masks are not really protecting against the variants? Many in India who got COVID seem to be wearing masks.
    2. What if vaccines(especially the US ones) are not protecting against the variants? Again that’s being widely reported in India
    3. Since people die even of flu too, should we ask everyone to wear mask all year every year? Who defines which life is more valuable than the others?
    4. The very existence itself is impermanent and anything and everything changes every single moment and there are no guarantees for anyone to live the next moment( Tragedy can stuck one at anywhere at any time)

  33. @ryan, Thanks for sharing with us about what your parents were doing for the last 20 years.

  34. I’m vaccinated, I could care less if an unvaccinated person sits next to me. Even unmasked.
    The vaccines work amazingly well if you want them, if not your choice, but the concept that people are going to quote the mantra “their’s still a chance you could catch Covid after your vaccination is silly. It’s highly unlikely and if you do it would be a non issue…..the tiny amount who have been vaccinated and died from Covid is not worth worrying about, better chance the plane you are on will crash and kill you then dying from Covid if you are vaccinated.
    We’ve got to put the understandable fear behind us and move on.

  35. @ryan, when he said he does not want to sit next to the unvaccinated person
    1. He has a concept in his mind that the person next to him is danger to him (there are people who think a person with certain skin color is danger to them)
    2. That the vaccinated person cannot get infection or infect others
    3. What if the person next to him was wearing mask?

    Vaccines are still in trial, many do not want to subject themselves to be a research object. (again that’s a thought people have)

  36. Not wanting someone unvaccinated sitting beside you is like not wanting somebody’s support animal sitting next to you.

  37. TheJetsFan and DaveS
    You will be exposed to this virus. It will find you.
    Herd immunity doesn’t mean that it’s gone. The virus is endemic, just like the other four coronaviruses out there.
    The virus will eventually find everyone on the planet unless they die first.
    It’s not going away. Fear, pontificating, theatre… the virus cares about none of those.

  38. This extension makes perfect sense. Now, the Trump-worshippers (and their fellow travelers at this time) who are sort of opposed to getting COVID-19 vaccines and opposed to mask mandates will have a few more months to ruminate about why mask mandates are still applicable for commercial travel. And the reason is looking at them in their own mirrors at home.

  39. They’re going to make the masks permanent. The TSA will enforce the mask mandate. Health theater.

  40. Whats the point? Covid is never ever going away. All masking does is give people false hope that Covid can be defeated. It cant be. Liberals love their endless, unwinnable wars. They love big government dictating how we live our lives and how we wipe our own asses. Mask mandates will never go away. Covid is here to stay permanently and with it the end of liberty.

  41. @Gary Points well-taken.

    I would agree there is currently little risk to hospital capacity and that the risk of transmission is low amongst those who have been vaccinated.

    However 25% of Americans have flat out stated that they will not in any way get vaccinated, and much of the world continues to face difficulty in getting their populations vaccinated. This provides a potential reservoir from which new variants may emerge. The available vaccines have shown pretty decent efficacy for the variants that are circulating right now, but there is no telling how effective they may be against future variants.

    As the rate or transmission decreases, so does the risk that new variants will emerge. We know that masking limits the risk of transmission, so it makes sense to continue doing so until we’ve reach the point at which the amount of virus circulating in the population is so low that the risk of new variants becomes negligible.

    Remember also that it has yet to be established just how long immunity lasts. It’s understandable that people are tired of masking, tired of distancing, tired of COVID in just about every way. Lifting the mask protocols too early could undo much of the progress that’s been made.

    More people getting vaccinated would certainly end the pandemic sooner, but hesitancy and lack of access in other parts of the world will ensure that COVID-19 continues until it has run its course. Since vaccinated people and unvaccinated people are indistinguishable from one another, everyone continuing mask protocols remains an important measure for reducing transmission.

  42. I am sorry but your argument is fatally flawed. Not enough of the US population has been vaccinated to support ending a mask mandate. It is not a matter of everyone who wants to get a vaccine having access. It IS a matter of getting a large enough swath of the US population vaccinated. I am always alarmed when bloggers with no formal medical training feel compelled to espouse their thoughts as gospel.

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