Not Wearing A Face Mask On A Plane Is 2020’s Emotional Support Animal

It was just earlier this year that the Department of Transportation finally moved to ban the Noah’s Ark approach passengers had come to take in bringing animals on a plane, under the rubric of the Air Carrier Access Act which provided that customers who needed an animal for a medical condition (emotional support) had to be accommodated free of charge.

Anyone who claimed to need emotional support had been exempt from the rules about what kind of animals to bring, how many, and at what cost. We saw pit bulls, horses, turkeys, and birds of all kinds. Yet if you failed to say the magic three words ’emotional support animal’ you’d have to leave behind your pet fish and hamster behind.

It turns out that mask wearing requirements work exactly the same way. If you say you have a medical reason not to wear one, you do not have to. From the Alaska Airlines FAQ a-on masks and social distancing (Emphasis mine.)

If a guest is exempt, how should they notify Alaska Airlines?

Guests are encouraged to communicate their exemption with an Alaska Airlines representative when they arrive at the airport. Note: In line with health privacy laws, guests are not required to disclose or prove their specific medical condition to airline employees and are asked to notify our airport staff upon boarding. Airport staff will inform the flight attendants of guests who have a medical exemption.

Hopefully everyone will wear a mask because it gives other passengers confidence to fly if for no other reason.

Here in Austin masks are required outdoors, but the Texas has eliminated penalties that cities had imposed. It’s a rule without teeth. And yet people are wearing masks because it isn’t about the law it’s about meeting obligations to the rest of society.

We focus way too much on rules, and forget that people stopped going to restaurants in large numbers prior to governments closing them down. And not everyone will immediately return, either, once jurisdictions allow them to open back up.

It’s easy to focus on the outlier passengers – they usually fly Spirit here in the U.S. and Jet2 in the U.K. – who cause problems for everyone else. Most people, though, are sensible and responsible.

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. Excellent news! I was hoping for something like this, so I could board a plane. This is a loophole that I plan on employing. One of my favorite pastimes is heading the the grocery store without a mask, even though it’s supposedly required by Executive Order, and watching the reaction from the mindless cattle meandering throughout the aisles.

  2. James N – I wonder what kind of sad life you have to enjoy posting something like this. I truly pity you.

  3. Carl- if you are old stay the hell inside and let the rest of us live our lives. Of course you are probably one of those old people that shames their kids and grandkids to come visit but then will blame everyone else when they get it.

    Here is AZ almost all the deaths of people who are over 65 with pre existing conditions or to put it more bluntly those who would shortly not be with us regardless.

    The sheep need to wake up, this is a test of how many freedoms we are willing to give up.

  4. This is great because you know that no airline will ever want to be the first to reverse the mask rule, so mask rule will stay for long

    If there’s a wink and nod way of avoiding it then that’s good. I find breathing very difficult in the mask so that’s a good enough reason for me

  5. There are ZERO studies showing that face coverings reduce the spread of CoVID-19. Multiple epidemiologists as well as the WHO have recommended against them, and although the CDC currently “recommends” face coverings, only recently they too said they didn’t help. It is likely nothing more than health theater to go with our security theater to make everyone feel better without accomplishing anything. If people want to wear a mask or gloves or a biohazard suit by all means do it. But we need to stop forcing/shaming others into doing things for which there is no scientific support.

  6. I’m not going to wear a mask because we ALL need more viruses to kill the weak humans who shouldn’t live in the first place. The Earth should be purged by the unhealthiest 10% every year to promote better health by everyone and a better evolution of the race.

  7. daddy – I have not had anybody over or encouraged anybody to come over..

    It’s just that if it’s true that “one of my favorite pastimes is heading the the grocery store without a mask…and watching the reaction” then James doesn’t live much of a life, At least not one I can wrap my head around.

    It’s clear that James is just out to get a reaction. Many people are loud and brave here where they’re faceless and protected. IRL they’re often quiet and shy in the corner.

    Are you really James in disguise?

  8. It is truly regrettable that WHO, the USCDC and others strongly discouraged the use of face masks in the beginning. The US surgeon general even claimed that wearing masks spread the virus. This misinformation made many people, like Doug, distrust the current “trend” of mask-wearing. Can’t blame them.

    One only needs to see the situation in 99% mask-wearing regions, like China, South Korea and Hong Kong, where daily infection rates have dropped to almost zero. Not denying that they each had periods of exponential virus spread, but unprecedented measures plus responsible mask-wearing citizenry brought it under control.

  9. @carl
    I am not a trump supporter, nor I am worried about constitutional rights, but James is right
    I dont want an airline to tell me to wear a mask just because their competitor does, and as pointed before there is no proof the mask helps
    Same people saying it helps are the same who said it does not
    I am a US citizen living among stupid canadian sheep who do not question anything
    I refuse to be told something nobody knows about
    If it is the law I will abide, if it is not, I will find every way not to

  10. @Doug – I agree with you in ways. I was told not to wear an N95 mask, but I do whenever I go out . I had a couple in the workshop. If there were plenty of N95 masks they would tell everybody to wear them.. Since there was a shortage they said they they wouldn’t do any good. Except of course for medical workers – yeah that makes sense, So they lied (yes I think they help) and then later started saying we just wouldn’t know how to wear them or handle them.

    Not wearing a mask is something some people feel very strongly about – even to the point of killing a store guard for carrying out the store policy of wearing masks. I don’t find wearing one to be a big deal. In any case I just choose not to fly for a while, There’s a lot we don’t know about this yet and I don’t wish to be collateral damage if those that think they know it all are wrong.

    Being called “mindless cattle” or “canadian sheep” doesn’t bully me into thinking any differently.

  11. @carl
    You have the right to wear a mask and you have the right nit to fly but when others (not you) try to tell everybody that they MUST wear a mask, thats when I have a problem
    People love a false sense of security as it gives them peace of mind and allows them not to take responsibility

  12. It is truly regrettable that WHO, the USCDC and others strongly discouraged the use of face masks in the beginning. The US surgeon general even claimed that wearing masks spread the virus. This misinformation made many people distrust the current “trend” of mask-wearing. Can’t blame them.

    One only needs to see the situation in 99% mask-wearing regions, like China, South Korea and Hong Kong, where daily infection rates have dropped to almost zero. Each had periods of exponential virus spread, but unprecedented health measures plus responsible mask-wearing citizenry brought it under control.

    US culture prides itself for its individualism and freedom of self-expression, which, don’t misunderstand me, are great traits. Far Eastern culture is generally the opposite. Fewer people carry a “nobody can tell me what to do” mindset like Doug’s; conformism is higher, as well as a “do what’s good for the group” mentality. Conformism doesn’t necessarily equal being sheep – just look at the recent massive Hong Kong protests against their government (for non-coronavirus-related issues).

    I firmly believe that mask-wearing limits the spread of the virus to some degree. Believe or not as you will, but at the very least, let’s not antagonize other people just because we can, like James N, and exploit this “loophole” for fun and giggles. We’re going through a global health crisis unlike any other.

  13. Here are three links to studies that show masks are effective:

    There are many more.

    I don’t know that the government should mandate that masks be worn, but if I were a business owner, I would bar customers without masks from entering. Outdoors with distancing is a different matter. Maybe Doug misses flying without a mask on his way to be barebacked in Swaziland.

  14. Gary, I really like you and find you sensible, but I honestly just want to sob. Not only is this analogy insulting–because really, one is a joke and one is a serious medical condition (one I happen to have)–but after being alone (single and without pets, not even touched by a human being) for 6 weeks, I had to go get a Covid test (well, CHOSE to) because I was flying to Texas to see an elderly person who is likely not to live to his next birthday–his birthday is this coming week. My test was negative; however, I almost asphyxiated in the mask. My doctor later agreed that it was akin to dangerous for me to spend prolonged periods with both my nose and mouth covered. It must be lovely to not have those sorts of problems. But some of us actually do, and it’s not an excuse. I can board with a mask, and I will choose a seat by a window. I carry a sweatshirt solely to cover my face if I need to cough or sneeze—and that is where the protection is. But I cannot wear one for a real length of time. I am no danger to anyone curled up by the window with my sweatshirt. It is an absolute insult to me and others with legitimate documented medical conditions (for years before the fear-mongering paranoia began). Thanks for making us feel two inches tall for your readership to praise you. Maybe think again. If you want to make a pet analogy, think service dogs. I cannot believe what I just read. I really am near tears because if others are thinking this, then I chose my health or people hating and judging me as if I am an evil awful person. Maybe I should just not be alive or something if I am that worthless.

  15. James N/Your daddy/Doug,

    Just the facts – On April 6th the WHO endorsed masks in all settings (CDC on Apr 3rd, and ECDC on Apr 8th), for all humans, with a variety of clinical outcomes expected.

    This WHO advice is available here:

    This is not based on new research as various masks were always effective for respiratory transmission of all diseases. Past recommendations not requiring masks for the public was based on both behavioral concerns (i.e. a public new to masks would wear them improperly and risk infection by touching them) and supply concerns (i.e. medical-grade supplies diverted from healthcare professionals).

    Just the facts. Masks save lives, and not your own. Try not to be a jerk, but make your own choice.

  16. My thanks to the last five that replied! I was starting to feel like the odd man out in my opinions,

  17. The self righteousness displayed by the public here, is just unbelievable.

    6 months ago, everyone was trying to force me to use certain words (pronouns) in my speech.
    Now they are telling me to cover my face in public.
    Now I can’t go into stores at certain times if I am not of a certain age.

    And everyone is happily whistling away here while parroting:
    ‘These rules are not for your safety. But the safety of the group.’
    ‘The collective is much more important than individual rights.’
    ‘Put away your rights, this is about everyone else!’
    ‘Why be upset that you are told what to do? Are you not a good citizen?’

    And everyone is just soooo happy to surrender their individuality as fast as possible to a higher power. Nothing to see here comrades!

    It’s self-righteous mob behavior. And a lot of us see it for what it is – despite the mob has a much louder voice than we do.

  18. The TSA has violated civil liberties for going on twenty years while simultaneously being the most inept agency in all of government, consistently failing over 90% of random internal audits. But I’m supposed to believe that face coverings are the real threat to civil liberties? Shutter the TSA and then we can talk about face coverings.

  19. I can’t speak for other people, but I wear a mask not because the government tells me to. I wear it because months of reading news and research about its pros and cons, and learning about how other societies whose outbreaks occurred months before the US had coped, has led me to believe in its worth.

    George’s (rather excited) comment reflects the beliefs of a subset of the American public who rejects any governmental regulation, thinking it impedes individualism. Some of these objections are well-founded, but others aren’t. Masks are one of those that aren’t. These people refuse to wear masks in order to stick a middle finger up at the government, or to assert their “individualism” amidst a sea of mask-wearing “sheep”. I hope I’m wrong and they came to their decision through rational thinking and not a knee-jerk anti-regulation reaction. But I get the sense that the probability is pretty small.

    Ps. the comment regarding the TSA gave me a chuckle. I feel that my civil liberties are more often violated while going through US checkpoints than at airports in “socialist” and “communist” countries in Europe and Asia.

  20. Agreed FC – it’s the “don’t tread on me – ‘Murica!” crowd that will keep this disease healthily spreading throughout the country in the coming months, unfortunately.

  21. Even if wearing masks prevents virus spreading by barely 1% (for example), I think it could save lives at the end of the pandemic.

  22. The real disease is the fear-neurosis you all seem to be catching.

    Coronavirus CoV-19 is just a made-up story being used for various nefarious ends by the same sort of nefarious characters that have used previous made-up stories for various nefarious ends.

    People in power and people wanting power lie. They always have and they always will.

  23. When you mix medicine and science with politics, you get politics.
    And Gary small matter but it’s Gov. Greg Abbott that eliminated fines, not Texas

  24. UA-NYC: your type of left-wing moralizing is why you lost the 2016 election. Sooooooo thankful you holier-than-thou know-it-alls just never learn. Super intelligent (just ask them) but not very bright. Keep it up!

  25. Unbelievable. It will be a while before I get back on a plane. It is too likely that there will be a critical mass of these “I got my rights” yahoos. I don’t want to sit near anyone’s support llama nor do I want to sit near any callous bonehead too boneheaded to tell the difference between protecting those around you and a violation of your rights.

    Not sure these trolls make a viable market for airlines. So grab your tiki torches you proud boys and assert your rights. Don’t tread on y’all. Not sure your bugout bags are considered carry-on, but he’ll, you got your rights so assert them as loudly as possible.

  26. @JE – wrong candidate at the wrong time. Your boy is a liar, a racist, a cheat, a fraud, and a coward. America got conned once, but not again. Enjoy the final 179 days!

  27. @Doug

    In that same document: “Wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including COVID-19.” You are missing the point that wearing a mask is not necessarily to protect you from infection but rather to prevent you from infecting others. This is why I would not allow you to enter my premises without a mask. Myriad studies have shown that masks are effective in preventing the spread of respiratory illnesses. You are free to refuse to wear a mask, but don’t expect to be welcomed anywhere indoors without one. While you are wrong about masks, I can sympathize with your concern about government overreach. Too many people expect the state to take care of all their problems and abrogate individual responsibility and judgment. People are allowed to live lives of corpulence and lethargy that impose massive costs on society and result in far more deaths than COVID-19 ever will. Why can’t the young and healthy among us go back to work and keep get society running again?


    Trump will still be in office for many months, if not years. Wouldn’t it be better to quit complaining about him and try get life back to normal as quickly as possible? You aren’t going to change anyone’s mind about him here. We need people to act pro-socially regardless of who is in office and your TDS badgering doesn’t help get the “deplorables” on board.

    Maybe we should have Doug and UA-NYC Thunderdome.

  28. Glad to read this
    I did not know
    I don’t wear masks unless absolutely required [so far that is nowhere that I”ve been – knock on wood]

    I’m not planning on flying much in the near future but if I do, now I don’t have to worry about it.
    Question – So airlines are giving them out – kudos to the airlines – but if you need them upon entrance to the airport, are the airlines handing them out right at the ticket check in doors ?

  29. I resent the remarks as well. I have a medical reason for not wearing a mask. In addition to that all the research shows they do not help. Forcing people to wear a mask so other people feel comfortable around them is insane. All the people wearing mask have drank the Kool-Aid as far as I’m concerned. This is nothing more than a flu, there’s a cure for it, and we as humans are walking down the path to Tierney and losing our freedoms. Wake up people this isn’t about health it’s about our freedom. How dare you judge me for not wearing a mask. Why don’t you think for a moment about what’s really going on here, turn off the news, and look at the big picture.

  30. I find it unfair that those in first class and business class on airlines are given the choice to wear or not wear face masks at their own discretion and all others are forced to wear them. Even someone with a medical condition in which wearing a mask could cause an anxiety attack due to PTSD from past traumatic experiences. If someone can’t breathe with a face covering then why force them to smother themselves. It’s already been proven that the masks don’t stop the spread of disease. This mask mandate is nothing more than training the mass population to be compliant. No one should be forced to wear a mask. It’s time to stop this nonsense and let people breathe the oxygen they were meant to breathe. No one is supposed to breathe in their own C02. First the masks were voluntary then forced. So what’s next, vaccines and microchips? I’m taking neither of them. I also will not wear a mask. I don’t need to hear all the rhetoric about not respecting or caring about others. It’s about my own need to breathe. I refuse to smother myself to give others that false sense of security of wearing a mask. If first class and business class don’t have to wear a mask, all others should have the same choice. I got this information from Google by inquiring about mask mandates on planes. Check it out for yourselves.

  31. The US has the worst COVID situation in the world. Compare it to say Hong Kong. Hong Kong people vociferously fight for their rights (witness the mass anti-government demonstrations the last few years). But they don’t argue against the common sense regarding mask wearing. No one has died or fallen ill from being “smothered” in their mask. Everyone in Hong Kong wears a mask when out and about.

    Current case number / Population = Cases per capita (percentage)
    USA: 6,631,000 / 328,200,000 = 0.0202 (2.02%)
    HK: 4,984 / 7,451,000 = 0.0006 (0.06%) <- 30 times less

    To top it off, Hong Kong shares a land border with China. Before the lockdowns, tens of thousands of potential virus-carriers crossed the border every day. Which makes the relatively low caserate more impressive, and the high caserate of the US more shocking.

    America's standing in the world stage has declined to its lowest point in two decades, according to Pew (, partly due to the country's botched COVID response. Freedom and liberty are good ideals to uphold and fight for. But masks aren't the enemy.

  32. Perhaps not the world’s worst. But far from admirable and much has to do with the government’s initial inept response and contradictory public statements, and some of the populace’s disregard for mask wearing and other preventative policies.

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