Now That Masks Are No Longer Required On Planes, It’s More Important For (Many Of) You To Wear One

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The federal transportation mask mandate has been suspended. Voluntary mask wearing varies by region of the country. Flying out of Austin and New Orleans this week perhaps 5% of passengers were wearing masks, perhaps a little bit more but definitely less than 10%.

What I didn’t understand was that a majority of people who were wearing masks were wearing either cloth or medical masks. I understand why people don’t wear masks. And I understand why people choose to wear them when they are no longer required – to protect themselves – but I do not understand the choice to wear a cloth mask, which doesn’t provide that protection.

Covid-19 cases were already on the rise in the U.S. before the mask mandate was dropped. There will be some people who (quite unfairly) blame he current run up in cases on the end of the mask mandate, despite masks not being required in places that are more conducive to spread, where people spend more of their time, like restaurants and bars.

The seven day moving average of cases is up about a third in a week, and the moving average understates the current level prevalence on the way up (just as it overstates it on the way down). It’s not yet clear how bad it’s going to get, since we’re still very early in this. The concern is that the B4 and B5 variants could evade immunity from B1, so the massive recent wave of infection wouldn’t fully stop another wave.

Those who are critical of the mask mandate’s end point out that masks protect the people around you from you, if you’re infected, and the infectious period of Covid-19 prior to showing symptoms. Cloth masks didn’t help with this. Medical masks likely do little against current variants. But better masks do help.

If you’re concerned about your risk from being around unmasked people, bear in mind that you can protect yourself and in some cases protect yourself better now that the mask mandate has ended.

  • You can wear an N95 or even P100 mask

  • And now that masks aren’t required you can wear one with a valve for your breathing comfort.

Valves were banned because they didn’t protect others from you. But now that there’s no mask rules anymore, you can wear a mask with a valve if you wish. And if you’re wearing a P100 mask properly you’re highly unlikely to get anything from fellow passengers. P100s have exhalation valves, but filter at least 99.8% of particles. Here’s one from Amazon that delivers same-day where I am. And here’s a full face respirator, no need for separate eye googles for total protection.

If you’re young, healthy, and are up to date on your vaccinations, your current risk from Covid-19 is likely quite low.

However if you face elevated risk now is the time to protect yourself from others on planes, since they may not be protecting you with their masks. And ironically you are better able to do so now that neither the government nor airlines are mandating masks.

Saying that masks are a choice now isn’t just a way of saying you have the choice not to wear one. You have the choice to protect yourself as well. There are plenty of people that will find wearing a mask enough of an inconvenience that it makes sense not to wear one, relative to their low risk from Covid-19. There are also people who will probably make this calculation incorrectly. There are many things about personal risk assessments people engage in that I do not understand, for instance we have what’s largely a cure to Covid 19 (!) in the form of Paxlovid yet people testing positive are for the most part choosing not to take it.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. Spot on, Gary. Yes, perhaps the best thing of ending the mandate is that it now (ironically) allows people who REALLY need protection to actually wear masks that will protect them !

    And I say that as someone who has family who needed to wear an N95-type mask on a plane, but couldn’t because it wasn’t allowed.

  2. Agreed.

    Traveling this week, wearing an N95 mask, got looks from many other travelers not wearing a mask.

    The same kind of look you see when you happen to run across a shoplifter in the act of stealing.

    They should know better, they do know better… they are doing it anyway, Nd hope you won’t turn them in.

    Covid don’t care.

  3. Are the airlines now allowing passengers to wear respirators like the one shown in the title photo? I have one and would like to wear it, but I understood that they were not permitted, for some reason.

  4. Oh come on. You know why people that are wearing masks are wearing cloth masks: virtue signaling. That’s not following the science, but a “I’m better than all of you ‘mask deniers’ as I act on political talking points and don’t use my brain.” Waiting for an article or pundit that says not wearing a mask is racist.

  5. I am traveling this evening and I am looking forward to not wearing a mask on airplanes. Meanwhile, two of my colleagues at work got Covid last week. One was fully vaccinated and boosted and was commonly wearing a a mask except while alone in his office. He looks fine when interacting for work via Zoom. Another colleague, with whom we were meeting daily, did not wear a mask. He was battling a medium fever over past weekend and spent this week at home recovering. He did at home Covid test which showed a weak second line. At the same time no one who was in a close contact with him got sick. While the two cases are not representative of the overall pandemic, I have no interest to spin the news in any way like CNN, CDC, Pfeitzer, or local administrators.
    To me, the most sensible way forward is to stop being paranoid about Covid. If you feel better, please wear a mask on a plane and get boosted every 4 months, or forget traveling all together.
    However, I still hope that the airlines and hotels would keep flexible booking policy and please stay home if you are not feeling well. I am getting more concerned that many hotel chains are re-introducing fully prepaid and non-cancellable room rates that will force people to travel even when sick. Thus, instead of the mask mandate, I would love to have a federal requirements that all airplane tickets and hotel room reservations to be cancellable (perhaps, by issuing future flight or stay credit) if a person gets sick. This simple measure would be more effective for keeping the sick people from spreading diseases than the face masks we are currently obsessed with.
    .

  6. Masks never worked. This was always known and knowable. safety theatre at best, toxic at worst.

  7. I have a cute pink and purple p100 that was work issued at the height of PPE shortages when I was working with critically ill covid patients in the back of a tiny box. The airlines and TSA 100% were not allowing that through security. I traveled every month for the last 2.5 yrs on short domestic flights. I’ll be taking my first international trip at the beginning of May.

  8. So Manuel,
    Surgeons wear masks in operating rooms because they don’t work?

    Interesting…..

  9. @thing1, n95 not allowed? That’s completely false. Only masks with valves were prohibited, n95 was always allowed. But keep on spreading lies.

  10. This is a great idea, but as others have mentioned above, airlines have (inconsistently) banned the use of full-face respirators. The logic seems to be about them “looking scary” (???) but it’s not clear that these would be allowed.

    A tight-fitting N95 (with or without valve) is fine, though, and very good protection.

  11. This post is not only full of inaccuracies, it is also irresponsible.

    Can a travel blogger be legally liable for dispensing advice regarding a deadly disease that they are clearly unqualified to dispense? Shouldn’t there, at the very least, be a disclaimer to the effect that the content of a blog post has not been endorsed or verified by bone fide health professionals?

    They agitated to have the mask mandate lifted, and then when they get their wish, they are now dispensing quack advice on how to protect oneself from the virus by wearing masks and other contraptions that may be infinitely more uncomfortable than simple multi-layer cloth masks recommended by the CDC.

    Understand this: masks work best — and they do work — when everyone wears them because it is a two-way protection:

    Background
    SARS-CoV-2 infection is transmitted predominantly by inhalation of respiratory droplets generated when people cough, sneeze, sing, talk, or breathe. CDC recommends community use of masks to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Masks are primarily intended to reduce the emission of virus-laden droplets by the wearer (“source control”), which is especially relevant for asymptomatic or presymptomatic infected wearers who feel well and may be unaware of their infectiousness to others (estimated to account for more than 50% of SARS-CoV-2 transmissions).1, 2 Masks also help reduce inhalation of these droplets by the wearer (“filtration for wearer protection”). The community benefit of masking for SARS-CoV-2 control is due to the combination of these two effects (source control and filtration for wearer protection); individual prevention benefit increases with increasing numbers of people using masks consistently and correctly.

    Source Control to Block Exhaled Virus
    Multi-layer cloth masks block release of exhaled respiratory particles into the environment,3-6 along with any microorganisms associated with these particles.7, 8 Cloth masks not only effectively block most large droplets (i.e., 20-30 microns and larger),9 but they can also block the exhalation of fine droplets and particles (also often referred to as aerosols) smaller than 10 microns3, 5 which increase in number with the volume of speech10-12 and specific types of phonation.13 Multi-layer cloth masks can both block 50-70% of these fine droplets and particles3, 14 and limit the forward spread of those that are not captured.5, 6, 15, 16 Upwards of 80% blockage has been achieved in human experiments,4 with cloth masks in some studies performing on par with surgical masks as barriers for source control.3, 9, 14, 17 In one study, conducted prior to widespread circulation of the Delta variant, masks worked equally well for blocking aerosolized particles containing both “wild-type” virus and the Alpha variant (a more infectious variant).17

    Filtration for Wearer Protection
    Studies demonstrate that cloth mask materials can also reduce wearers’ exposure to infectious droplets through filtration, including filtration of fine droplets and particles less than 10 microns. The relative filtration effectiveness of various masks has varied widely across studies, in large part due to variation in experimental design and particle sizes analyzed. Multiple layers of cloth with higher thread counts have demonstrated superior performance compared to single layers of cloth with lower thread counts, in some cases filtering nearly 50% of fine particles less than 1 micron.14, 18-30 Some materials (e.g., polypropylene) may enhance filtering effectiveness by generating triboelectric charge (a form of static electricity) that enhances capture of charged particles20 while others (e.g., silk) may help repel moist droplets31 and reduce fabric wetting and thus maintain breathability and comfort. In addition to the number of layers and choice of materials, other techniques can improve wearer protection by improving fit and thereby filtration capacity. Examples include but are not limited to mask fitters, knotting-and-tucking the ear loops of medical procedures masks, using a cloth mask placed over a medical procedure mask, and nylon hosiery sleeves.32-36

    [1] Link in next comment: this is the information age ad information is free. There is no excuse for people who can apparently use a compute to continue to be so misinformed.

  12. Once again the usual fear mongering comes from our resident medical expert “DCS”. The original post was accurate in stating what is already known to be that of common sense. Not sure which planet DCS is on ? We know that most masks worn by the general public are mainly ineffective against all but the biggest particles transmitted by the virus. Manuel says all masks don’t work but obviously we know that N95 and a few others are highly effective however seldom worn by the public due to cost and comfort. Thanks for the informative post Gary!

  13. “Can a travel blogger be legally liable for dispensing advice regarding a deadly disease that they are clearly unqualified to dispense?”

    Thankfully we have someone like you to protect us from ourselves. God knows the rest of us are to stupid to figure it out.

  14. @Tom Yes, you can wear a P100 respirator (half-face respirator). I’ve been wearing N95s with valves since Feb 2000 flying everywhere and just put a surgical mask on top of it. But, in May 2020, I started wearing P100s. I own two, one with fiber filters and one with gas cartridge filters. I just covered the exhaust valve with mask material that I taped to it. I was never denied to board and I flew on numerous airlines including international. Just flew from Dubai in February with one.

    So now you definitely can wear one without any modifications since nobody else will be wearing a mask. I’ll continue to wear the P100, especially now since covid will be spreading on just about every plane with no mask wearing regardless of the so-called “hepa filtered system” in planes.

  15. I’m trying to decide what to do when I travel this summer. I’m an asthmatic singer and really don’t want COVID. I’m also concerned about the lack of humidity. Does the humidiflyer do anything that a decent KN95 won’t do?

  16. I’m still amazed how foolish people thinks masks do not work. Yes, it has limitations and also problems. Even cloth masks helps. Nothing is bullet proof, and not wearing properly and constant touch them makes them less effective. Some scientists suggested that viruses are small enough to get through like bullets through chain fences. What people don’t realize is that virus do not live by them selves. They have to be transferred via saliva, sweat, and blood. They live in peoples bodily fluids. Even cloth masks work most of time. I’m a healthcare worker, and people laugh at me for wearing them. I’m not wearing for me. I’m wearing them because I’m around sick people and immune compromised people. At least have the common sense that masks are not political statements.

  17. DCS,
    the problem that you and idealists like you cannot admit or accept is that the mask mandate as it was implemented was flawed AND compromised in its abililty to be effective FROM the beginning and all sides of Washington never did anything to fix it.
    Of course if all parties properly wore medical grade high performance masks, there would be a high degree of effectiveness = but there were so many holes allowed in the rules that eliminated most of the effectiveness that public mask wearing was worthless. Literally. You and others that cite one study after another cannot produce a single study that shows the effectiveness of masks AS THEY HAVE BEEN WORN by Americans in real life.
    And the mask mandate was legally flawed, Congress knew it but wouldn’t do what was necessary to legislate it because covid has raged through 2 election cycles. No one wants to touch it and a judge saw that and said “get back when you fix the problems” and she did tell the CDC what needed to be fixed – but the DOJ is appealing based on trying to make the broken system the standard for the future.

    And medically it simply is not necessary for all of society to conform to the medical needs of a relatively small percentage of the population that do have tools – including high performing mask usage and vaccines – which they can use if they need to protect themselves. Further, the virus is simply not near as deadly meaning the percent of the population is at high risk is very low. Add in that countries like the US and Brazil are now seeing much lower rates of transmission of new variants compared to countries in Europe and Asia that were more successful in reigning in early rounds of covid and it is clear that there is a law of diminishing returns and some societies paid a price earlier and will pay a lesser price now and in the future.

    Your idealism won’t work in a democratically elected society where risks are not equal for all people.

    The sooner you admit that and move on with living your live the way you need to, the happier we will all be.

    And Gary will have to find something else to write about. although American Airlines isn’t going anywhere anytime soon

  18. So why were masks not required before Covid?
    Why are the immunocomprovised suddenly at risk for the many many infectious elements to which they can be exposed while traveling?
    And why do these many many infectious elements not around protest marches?

  19. I’m currently positive for COVID (24M, no terrible symptoms but does feel like a bad cold even with booster) and my doctor refused me Paxlovid. I assume it’s some weird dose budgeting thing but the US isn’t using the doses it does have so….

    Hopefully Biden’s moves next week fix this.

  20. Agreeing that the pink mask *is* adorable would be a first step in achieving common ground.

  21. I’ll be wearing a KN95 mask tomorrow. You can struggle with an N95 mask if you want. But as pointed out in the article Gary shared this morning, the protection afforded by these even the best masks is greatly reduced if no one else is wearing a mask and there is a lot of virus in the air. SARS-CoV-2 in droplets do not stay suspended in the air long enough that they are removed by HEPA ventilation systems. Masks do not protect people from droplets that land on surfaces and are conveyed by touch. The more Covid there is in the air on a plane and the more crowded the plane is the greater the chance of being infected, mask or no mask.

    Airline CEO’s are only interested in making money. Empty middle seats would increase onboard safety. But the CEOs lobby for a situation where planes are full and few people wear masks. You’d think cabin crew would be concerned.

  22. @ Gustavspeed – immunocompromised people have been wearing masks since before the pandemic if they were smart, cared about their health, and not embarrassed by looking different, so probably not anyone you would know.

  23. I wore masks before the pandemic on most flights because I wanted to make sure I didn’t get sick once I arrived to my destination. Also, I wore them in countries with higher pollution rates so it was nothing new to me. And now I will always wear them on flights. I haven’t caught anything in the last 2+ years.

  24. @Gary Leff sez, likely believing it too:

    Funny – DCS actually didn’t point out a single thing in my post that he believes is incorrect…

    I did, but it just passed by you even though it was in plain sight in a long quoted block of text. To be more explicit, by providing a link to the repository of the most authoritative scientific evidence on masking, I was telling you what was wrong in your post. Had you’d bothered reviewing the evidence, you would have seen (at least I hope you would have) what I believed was incorrect, in fact, wrong in the post. It was the whole point of the long text I quoted and the link I provided !!!

    DCS, the problem that you and idealists like you cannot admit or accept is that the mask mandate as it was implemented was flawed AND compromised in its abililty to be effective FROM the beginning and all sides of Washington never did anything to fix it.

    Make no mistake about it, had it not been for the idealists’ “flawed” mitigatory measures, including the mask mandate that the CDC could impose only after the “former guy” was tossed out office, that “flattened the curve” every time there was a new variant and associated infection flare-up due to the fact that available vaccines were not as effective against it, we would still be fighting the bug with lockdowns, masking everywhere, testing galore, remote work, etc.

    Literally. You and others that cite one study after another cannot produce a single study that shows the effectiveness of masks AS THEY HAVE BEEN WORN by Americans in real life.

    From that comment, it is clear that you’d rather dispense dangerous advice that you are not even remotely qualified to dispense on a serious healthy crisis and the most transformative event since WWII than to take the time to inform yourself by reviewing the most authoritative evidence there is on masking and other mitigatory measures that you continue to disparage. Your comment (bolded part) also reveals how misinformed you are about how epidemiological studies are conducted. I would rather base my decisions on how to protect against the virus on those studies that you are pooh-poohing than on anything I would read on this site. In fact, I would suggest you stick to peddling credit cards and writing about miles and points, but even there your record is rather “spotty”, as I have made amply clear in this space over the years. I will leave it at that.

    G’day.

  25. I just want to mention to anyone that may plan on purchasing the 3M P100 respirator, that the 2091 filters are pretty much standard, but if you want odor elimination, like from cigarette smoke, bathroom odor, etc, get the 2097 filters which shield against organic vapors. There’s canister filters also, but a little overkill for covid, but you won’t smell anything with those. lol

  26. My preceding post is an “omnibus” response that addresses various commenters’ claims, including @Gary Leff’s, both uttered and anticipated…

    Bye bye!

  27. @DCS why don’t you just unsubscribe and go away? Don’t need your negative energy. This is Gary’s blog and let him write what he wants to write. Please go away.

  28. DCS,
    thanks for the comic relief on a Saturday night.
    -The 3rd set of comments you cite are mine, not Gary’s, and I don’t peddle credit cards.
    -The mask mandate was implemented under the former president who flattened the curve under the waves of the pandemic under his “reign.” As much as you want to believe otherwise, covid-19 is not partisan

  29. Now it feels like back in early 2020 when people, especially Asians, got discriminated against for wearing a mask because they want to protect themselves from COVID.

  30. Glad you find the topic humorous.

    @Tim Dunn — While responding, I just decided to address everyone at the same time as I figured it would be clear what applied to whom.

    About the mask mandate, states had implemented them, for the federal level, let’s let Wiki inform us:

    Former President Donald Trump largely resisted wearing masks in public media appearances,[9][10][11] and did not mandate their use at his rallies and other public campaign events during the 2020 presidential election.[12][13] After briefly encouraging their use in mid-July,[14][15] Trump continued to hold campaign events (such as the 2020 Republican National Convention) where masks were not widely used.[16][17][18] Trump mocked and ridiculed Joe Biden, his Democratic opponent (and the eventual winner in the election), for wearing face masks in public appearances.[19][20][16] Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, and others criticized Trump’s refusal, calling it dangerous and irresponsible.[21][22][23] A lack of precautions (such as masks) taken during crowded White House ceremonies and receptions by Trump on September 26 were credited with having possibly resulted in a COVID-19 outbreak at the White House, which infected Trump himself.

    After Biden was sworn in as president in January 2021, one of his first executive orders mandated stronger enforcement of COVID-19-related health and safety protocols, including masks on federal properties. Biden also issued an executive order mandating the wearing of masks on public transport systems. In April 2021, as the country’s vaccination program increased in pace, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance stating that those who were fully vaccinated did not need to wear masks when in small outdoor gatherings. In May 2021, the CDC went further and issued guidance stating that fully vaccinated people did not need to wear masks nor physically distance in public, unless otherwise mandated by local laws or entities. The announcement faced a mixed reception, with critics arguing that this guidance largely relied on an honor system, and may have been premature given the country’s progress on vaccination at the time.

  31. “You have the choice to protect yourself as well. There are plenty of people that will find wearing a mask enough of an inconvenience that it makes sense not to wear one, relative to their low risk from Covid-19”

    Funny thing is… this was the case back when the Pandemic started, yet the “risk” numbers were m minimized and obscured. Now that the realization of “we can’t prevent this” has occurred, common sense has returned.

    My question is- why was the common sense ignored in the first place?

  32. @Mon, yeah, aren’t you clever — you caught me. OK, I got the mask names wrong. My sister going through cancer treatment was told she couldn’t wear her vented mask of unknown make or model number. My bad. Go have yourself a cookie.

  33. Tim Dunn as you probably already know Everything is political to DCS and everything is the fault of our former President. There is no winning with this guy but his posts are humorous!

  34. CMorgan,
    so true. the sad thing is that he thinks Biden gets to take credit for masking on US airlines when they all required it long before Biden ever showed up.
    Given that Fauci is commenting that courts have no place in the discussion, it is clear that Biden has surrounded himself with people that simply do not understand the American governmental process – and THAT is why so many will push back even if masks are medically recommended.
    And when the Red people take over both houses again and finish the hearings that show crimes on Fauci’s part, the final word will be spoken and written

  35. There is no reason to be misinformed in the “information age.”

    The sad thing is that he thinks Biden gets to take credit for masking on US airlines when they all required it long before Biden ever showed up.

    If the airlines deserve credit for masking and the Biden mandate had nothing to do with it, why didn’t the airlines just stop requiring masking? The information is out there. I provided Wikis chronology, but true to a MAGA mind, nothing gets through. Stop using a computer if you cannot use it to get smarter.

    I have been posting in this space for years and am a known quantity. The notion that for me, a card-carrying left-leaning centrist, everything is “political” is utterly ridiculous and stupid. I will always land squarely where the scientific evidence or just logic take me. It is why I provide so many links !!!

    I despise Trump, disgraced and twice-impeached, for the moral and ethical bankruptcy that epitomized the 4 years of his utterly failed “presidency” that the country is still trying to shake.

    Get smart.

  36. Gary – If you haven’t already done this, it would be useful to do a post on what’s needed if you get COVID while traveling internationally. I got it on the business portion of a 3 week European trip and spent the holiday portion of my trip in quarantine. I didn’t know that I should have gotten an “official” lab test (either Antigen or PCR) immediately to start the 11 day “recovery” clock. Unfortunately, I didn’t get an “official” test until the day before my flight back to the US. The result was positive so I couldn’t fly. Should have done my homework before the trip but I wasn’t aware that once you’ve had COVID, you test positive for up to 90 days. I can get in the US with Doctor’s Note of Recovery but it is based on the date of an “official” test result, not an at-home test that is self-administered. Per current United Airlines rules, the note has to be 11 days after the test. So I had to stay an additional 11 days in Europe to meet the conditions to get a Doctor’s Note of Recovery for entry into the US. Fully recovered now but wish I had known this when I originally tested positive on April 8.

  37. @Mary Beth

    Not saying this is morally right, but the CDC guidelines cover airplanes not walking over the border. The US government can’t deny a US citizen entry into the USA via border crossings.

    So, people have been flying to Mexico and then crossing the border to get in via bus or on foot and then flying to their home city. That’s been going on since testing started in January 2021.

  38. My only comment: The 3M Aura N95 mask is super comfortable and the best thing, it can be found at your local Home Depot.

  39. @Chris, in the beginning there were no treatments and no vaccines, so we had to prevent the collapse of the health care system. You do not remember New York? At least now the majority are vaccinated and we have ways to treat it. Very two different scenarios.

  40. DCS says “ have been posting in this space for years and am a known quantity.”

    A known quantity of what DCS? Certainly not due to intelligent comments.

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