Passenger Planned An Elaborate Hour-Long Inflight Meal To Avoid Mask-Wearing Entirely

When face mask policies were introduced for air travel last year, ‘but I’m drinking’ became a common excuse and passengers could nurse a Starbucks throughout the entire flight. This is no longer acceptable, or at least while some passengers will still do it – and some flight attendants allow it – the rule doesn’t permit it and you may get kicked off the plane.

This is what happened on a United Airlines flight in Austin Thursday morning, where one passenger made it abundantly clear prior to departure that they planned to use eating as a way to avoid mask-wearing for the duration of a short hop to Houston.

Both Southwest (Houston Hobby) and United (Houston Intercontinental) offer flights to Costa Rica via Houston, but since he reports making his connection and drinking a bloody mary we know it’s United. Southwest isn’t serving alcohol on board.

And indeed UA217, the first United flight from Austin to Houston of the day, was delayed 21 minutes by this incident.

A year ago one man nursed a can of Pringles for an entire four hour flight just to see if he could. The airline confirmed that he was fully within his rights.

This is no longer acceptable traveling on U.S. airlines. The rules now say you have to put your mask back on between bites or sips.

  • American says,

    You can briefly lower or remove your face covering while actively eating, drinking or taking oral medication, but it must be worn between bites and sips.

  • United says,

    There may be times when you may need to remove your mask in the airport or on the aircraft, such as when briefly eating or drinking. Federal law requires you to immediately put your mask back on between bites and sips.

  • Delta says “Prolonged periods of mask removal are not permitted for eating or drinking – masks need to be worn between bites and sips.”

The safe way to eat or drink is to move your mask down below your mouth as you sip or chew, and then place your mask back on – until the next sip or bite.

Many crewmembers will offer space to keep a mask down ‘while eating or drinking’ and you’ll see many passengers who do this. That works… until the flight when it doesn’t. And as a general proposition I assume that if a rule is going to be enforced to the letter at some point, it’ll be enforced that way with me.

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. Of course, from a health point of view, you should minimise handling of face masks as any particles which the outside of the mask catches will be transferred to the wearer’s hands, which are often used in eating. So, far better to remove the mask before eating and not touch it again until it’s time to put it back on.

    But then mask wearing, especially in a plane with its air filtration, is largely performative.

  2. @NB-You are correct. The more a mask is moved around (on/off, up/down) the greater the likelihood particles of (anything) will shake off into the air. As an aside, I’ve noticed that normally mask-excessive customers of my local supermarket are beginning to shed those masks. As one said, “I’m simply tired of wearing those (darn) things.”

  3. @NB – that would be true if we were trying to protect from a virus with significant fomite transmission, which was assumed to be the case at the start of the pandemic (applying flu model) but we now believe surface transmission is minimal.

  4. I think of a plane as a flying sewer with or without covid. In 50 years of air travel I often caught a common cold from flying in steerage. It’s density and probability. Do you feel lucky?

  5. And the logic behind wearing anything that isn’t an N95 mask or higher? There isn’t any. The virus is .01-.05 microns large – and only an N95 or better will filter…which means every mask worn on an airplane (.1 microns and worse) does ABSOLUTELY nothing to protect against Covid. It’s all an exercise in futility anf a spoofed opiate in control of lemmings who are foolish enough to follow. We’ll look back on this 2 years in our history and wonder wtf Nazi Germany looked like in the 21st century.

    Christ Gary, you’re freakin better than this.

  6. Good. Time to end this charade. Just like BLM said all last year: “If our actions inconvenience people, good. The inconvenience is for a good cause.” This is the same thing. Keep deplaning, keep canceling, keep causing enough disruptions until they give in. Airlines have been telling us since March 2020 that airplanes are 100% covid safe with their magical fans and air circulation. Good. Everyone’s safe. Civil disobedience works both ways. Its past time to start fighting back. I’ll gladly buy this guy a beer.

  7. It’s all insane. It’s all a power play. While it’s depressing and boring not to fly, spending all those dollars or miles to wear a mask for hours and hours? Jerking the thing up and down your face a thousand times? Not a chance. I’d rather be bored than totally teed off. Even with a business trip, travel is always a pleasure. Flying under meaningless restrictions is not pleasure, so I’ll not travel until the dunderheads wake up … if ever.

  8. Wow an article about face masks. How original. This just goes to show there will always be jerks trying to circumvent the system which is what leads to more strict rules. Some people can’t be trusted to behave like adults.

  9. NB probably thinks scrubbing the plastic bags from UberEats is the best way to combat the virus.

    Knowledge evolves, neanderthal. Try to keep up.

  10. Although virus transmission via surface doesn’t seem to be a huge factor in Covid-19 transmissions, constantly handling the mask probably re-aerosolizes any virus actually on the mask, making the situation worse than just lowering it once. Not a perfect analogy, but dust a mask with talcum powder and hang it around your neck versus constantly handling it. (I don’t advise putting it on your face.) Watch how much talc comes off in both scenarios. The handled mask is going to be putting out clouds of talc, while the one around your neck is just going to sit there.

    Too many people think “doing something” is better than “doing nothing”. It makes them feel better, or it let’s them pick a middle ground that is ineffective instead of doing the hard things that actually do something. The hard things that actually do something at this stage are getting vaxxed and show proof of vaccination (or immunity from prior infection) before boarding. Masks were the only thing we had a year ago. Now they’re theater. Getting vaxxed and checking people’s papers are tough decision people and the airlines don’t want to make. Grow a pair.

  11. I applaud the guy. He was obviously willing to take a political stand. Other wise he would have just waited till after wheels up, quietly eaten his meal without a mask and most likely the flight attendants would have left him to it. I have refused to fly and have taken to driving up to a 1000 or more miles for business and leisure travel. I want to fly again. At this point mask mandates are just experiments in societal control to see how far the next crisis can be used. Unfortunately it appears civil disobedience is all that is going to work to get rid of this nonsense. I have been a frequent traveler for 30 years and know full well it is a pain to be delayed but passengers need to put the blame where it belongs which is the airlines, and Federal government. End the mandates and public resistance is unnecessary.

  12. As someone who is both fully vaccinated and Covid-recovered, and poses no epidemiologically signicant risk, I’d rather wear a straw between my lips than a mask over my whole face.

    So, what exactly is a “sip”? What if the drink has a tall straw always between the lips, and just enough suction to keep fluid in constant contact with the tongue, and a drop or two is allowed to saturate the tongue every minute or two?

    I travel with a “Super Big Gulp” cup I fill on the concourse, and my sips consume almost the entire seated portion of the flight I only wear a mask when out of my seat. Since I am technically in compliance, I don’t get hassled.

    If any of this was science- or fact-driven, masks would only be required for people without good evidence of being Covid negative, like a vaccination card, proof of a recent robust Covid antigen titre test, a very recent negative Covid test, or proof of recent recovery from Covid. Mask exemption could be verified in advance of travel with a QR code, and evidenced upon boarding with a wristband, like stadiums, theaters, and clubs with entry control are already now doing.

    Of course this would require someone to actually do their job or provide service. But Covid is the never-ending refuge of customer service scoundrels who never really want to do their job or provide good service even BEFORE Covid.

  13. @Bill you’re an idiot. Great, I’m glad you’re willing to drive 1,000 miles but you are hurting no one but yourself for doing so, and all for what?

    And publicly advocating for civil disobedience in defiance of federal law?
    If so, why aren’t YOU the one flying and creating a scene to make a point? Aren’t you being a coward for just avoiding the problem altogether?

    Such Republican hyprocrisy.

  14. “constantly handling the mask probably re-aerosolizes any virus”

    – Results of scientific thought experience by local neckbeard

  15. @mike I love getting a rise out of liberals. No I am not hurting myself at all. Driving has been very liberating. I see a lot of the country. I leave on time arrive on time and eat better food than the slop they are serving in First class now. I don’t have to put up with lousy service and flight attendants on power trips. No mask mandate at any time on my trips. Plus it is my own, and I grant you small, protest when I deny AA a multi billion dollar company my typical $25K annual spend on airline tickets. Especially irrelevant since AA has soaked up billions of dollars in subsidies. But it is still a protest. Yes I am not willing to board a plane and refuse to wear a mask. If that makes me a coward to take the liberating scenic drive rather than put up with the misery of air travel as it is now so be it. I can still applaud those who peacefully resist government overreach. Maybe enough delayed flights and the airlines will start begging the Feds to lift the mandate.

  16. @Ritz (5th comment).
    That is why everybody who is not an idiot should be wearing N95 masks. Fly only when the trip is very important. Wear a N95 mask. Simple.

  17. @Bill imagine you have a personal emergency or urgent trip where you need to be somewhere urgently. Driving 1,000 miles won’t work – it will take you a full day to get there. Your protest has limited applications and you’re just cutting off your nose to spite your face because you don’t want to put on a friggin’ piece of cloth for a few hours.

  18. Must be nice being so important that rules don’t apply to you. The Leona Helmsley school of following rules…

  19. First of all, I wouldn’t personally debate on masks. From where I am the cases arise day in day out. I believe we should all follow the rules when mandated

  20. @mike Yes I am vaccinated. Got it as soon as I was eligible. I’ll get the booster the same way and I urge others to be vaccinated. But I won’t enforce a mask or vaccine mandate on anyone. Mandates only reinforce resistance. A line has to be drawn somewhere against government overreach or it will continue incrementally. There are already a lot lemmings including the head of the flight attendant union saying mask should be permanent.
    Yes there may come a day when an emergency or just not enough time to drive forces me to fly. But I am going to do everything I can to avoid flying till this mask foolishness is over. I hope the airlines get fed up with it and beg for the mandates to be lifted. Regardless so far the trade has been in my favor. I am happy taking my road trips.

  21. It is hard to keep your mask on if you take a bite and re-mask and try to chew with it on…. It moves all over as u chew..crazy regs

  22. @Bill:

    United has had great success in imposing a mask mandate. Excluding those who applied for reasonable accomodation exemptions, 99%+ of employees have gotten the vaccine, and minimal people have resigned. Almost 600 were let go, but it’s a tiny fraction.

    Mandates work. I am fully supportive of private businesses, and governments if needed, to give mandates and provide reasonable accomodation.

    Otherwise, you’ll be driving and not flying for the next five years. That’s a promise.

  23. @Mike. Precisely. Stop accommodating those who are prolonging this disaster. I hate wearing a mask, but I have to every day at work. I have a reasonably well paying job that I otherwise love. It should indeed be those who are spreading the disease who may need to give up their jobs; not those who do the right thing and see it defeated again and again by the unvaccinated who crowd our ICUs (not leaving room for people with other crises) and morgues. It is one thing if they were just volunteering for a slow, miserable, pointless death. But they are impacting quality of life for everyone.

  24. Lol I fly weekly, eat and drink without the mask on and no one says anything. Bunch of zombies.

    Prolong the lockdown LOL blame it on the government and yourselves who gave away your freedom.

    Flying tomorrow – will make sure to have my mask off in business class as much as possible.

  25. @mike you do sound like an airline employee. Regardless I have found I don’t miss flying very much. Driving in many cases only takes a little longer than flying. When you take into account all the canceled and delayed flights I hear over and over from friends who are flying that they should have drove cause it would have been faster. Even on my long trips it only adds a few hours. I am much more relaxed when traveling now since I am not always stressing over if my flight will be delayed or canceled or angry because the flight attendants spent their time chit chatting rather than taking care of customers. I can’t even think about wanting to fly with the horror stories I hear about cabin service now.
    As I said there will come a time when I have to fly. I don’t fly international for business anymore but still like to travel international for leisure once or twice a year so I would like all this nonsense to end and service To return. After all the flight attendants like mask cause it is a good excuse to not serve. Hmmm…..Maybe trans Atlantic cruises are the way to go since on most lines vaccinated passengers don’t have to wear mask. I am about to qualify for Exec Platinum with non flight requirement for 2022. That makes every year continuously since 2003. At one point in time I would have been upset to think I might not re-qualify but I am to the point I don’t care. Chasing status is just another stressor I can live without.

  26. Look, let me make is simple for you-

    If we all run around naked, and someone pees on you, you get wet right away.

    If you are wearing pants, some pee will get through- not as much, so you have some protection.

    If the guy who pees is wearing pants, the pee stays with him, and you don’t get wet.

    That’s why we have mask mandates. To stop the people spewing out germs from contaminating a large group of people. Wearing a mask is not going to do much to protect you- the protection comes from the Covid infected covidiot wearing one. That’s why we have mandates.

  27. @Mike:

    You would have fit in real well in 1930’s Germany.. Obey the government no matter what?!?! SEIG HEIL! What a dolt!

    REMEMBER: Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.

  28. Story + comments helpfully remind this globetrotter why he hasn’t flown at all in 20 months.

    Ain’t no use …

  29. Spent 60 days in hospital, 45 of those in ICU two intubations. I’m now vaccinated and use a mask at all times when outside my home. Haven’t flown in 20 months, may fly in December. And yes masks work, N95 are best but two surgical masks are almost as good when it matters. I wouldn’t fly without several N95 masks at hand. It protects you and those around you, the freedom expressions i see on this subject seem to be specious. Like a brat throwing a temper tantrum. I’ll fly only if I really have to, at that time I’ll take all possible precautions, vaccine? Check, mask, check. And any other prevention item that might work

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