Pete Buttigieg Argues Mask Mandates Must Stay, Government Must Require “Respect”

The CDC declared that science supports not wearing a mask indoors if you’re vaccinated however you’re still required to wear a mask in airports and on planes through September 13.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg was challenged on the contradiction and argued that mask mandates should remain on planes even though they aren’t needed for vaccinated individuals in restaurants, bars and gyms because,

  • “Well, some of the differences have to do with the physical space.” But isn’t that an argument that planes aren’t safer environments due to HEPA air filtration and downward air flow, and as a public health matter shouldn’t he be mandating social distancing on board? In any case, even without blocked middle seats bars are now maskless and packed with people closer together than planes are, so this is nonsense.

  • “Some of them have to do with it being a workplace where in some of these transit and travel situations people don’t have a choice,” In Buttigieg’s view it’s important to protect flight attendants but not restaurant workers. But what are we protecting them from since they have the opportunity to be vaccinated?

  • “[I]t’s also a matter of respect.” It’s important to respect flight attendants but not restaurant workers, apparently. “Respect” may be desirable, though it’s a matter of social norm and custom and views on respect will differ. Should government be in the business of mandating respect rather than simply mandating civility – you can’t assault someone but do you have to respect them or risk government fines?

    Is something even a matter of respect, if it’s mandated by law? Isn’t respect something that has to be freely offered? If someone is wearing a mask because it’s required, to avoid penalties, aren’t they doing it for a reason other than respect?

Buttigieg was also challenged on “an uptick in unruly passengers who are bucking mask mandates on planes” and of course this is not surprising, since it’s something I predicted more than six months ago. Oddly American and Southwest seem to be blaming alcohol for passenger behavior even though economy passengers haven’t had access to alcohol on their planes. For his part, American’s CEO Doug Parker has blamed the different mix of passengers that have been flying his airline as well.

Back in November I explained that we were going to see more conflict on planes over masks as people gained immunity from vaccination and natural infection yet were still required to wear masks. The Director of the CDC said vaccinated people neither get nor spread the virus, and anyone who wants a vaccine in the U.S. 12 and older can get one (and being younger than that generally puts you at less risk than a vaccinated older American). There’s no longer a reason to wear masks on planes, to protect yourself if you’ve been vaccinated or to protect others – and anyone who chooses not to be vaccinated at this point assumes that risk, which – given low virus prevalence on the U.S. now – isn’t significant in most circumstances.

We could see a resurgence in the virus come fall and winter, and if that happens mask mandates could well make sense (but only if we mandate decent masks, used correctly and not cloth masks). In the meantime the lack of flexibility afforded to the vaccinated is one thing that may be holding back vaccination – the mask mandate could be what holds down vaccination and extends the pandemic in the U.S.

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. My flight attendant neighbor claims that FAs and FA unions are pushing the mask mandate. No one else in the industry is.

  2. The most important reason for mask mandate on planes is because children under 12 who cannot be vaccinated fly on planes and need to be protected from unvaccinated adults who refuse to wear masks and will lie about their vaccination. I guess Pete didn’t want to mention that.

  3. As long as we’re wearing masks, the FAs can just keep us quiet, docile, unfed and ignored. Actual passenger comfort and recognition are a long way down their list of priorities. Masks ain’t going away anytime soon. Not even in September, I would speculate.

  4. I’ve lost respect for him since he’s continuing to wear masks outdoors despite being fully vaccinated for quite some time. Obviously he doesn’t either believe in the science or trust the vaccine. If he is truly vaccinated, then he is safe from exposure. Take the damn mask off outdoors.

  5. People with compromised immune systems can’t gain immunity via vaccine. It’s fine to tell them to stay out of bar and restaurants, but flying and other transport is different.

  6. While we’re grilling Administration members, could some reporter please ask Dr. Walensky why vaccinated US citizens need a COVID test to return from abroad? Vaccinated people are very unlikely to spread COVID, yet they need a COVID test and people who contracted COVID within the previous 90 don’t need a test to return. Yet in the US, if you’ve had COVID and are unvaccinated, the recommendation is to wear a mask, whereas a vaccinated person does not need to wear one. What gives here?

  7. Wearing masks does not seem to be stopping people from flying. Leisure travel is up.
    Meanwhile, the nationwide vaccination rate goes down almost every day.

    I know several people who are unvaccinated who don’t wear masks indoors today. They think they’re immune, or somehow it will won’t hurt or kill them. It’s the other person’s problem.
    I also know people who have passed recently due to COVID-19, as late as last thursday.

    The quickest way out of this problem is to get everyone vaccinated. Period.

  8. People say don’t require masks, citing the CDC. The CDC change was aspirational, not based on cases numbers. Sure, cases are down but still reasonably high.

    In defense of the CDC, however, is the fact that a lot of people wear poor quality masks or those that have large gaps so no masks and a joke masks aren’t that much different.

    The UK is also just as vaccinated as the US and they have many cases so this complacency is too early.

  9. “No shirt, no shoes, no service” has been the law my entire life. For places that serve food and sometimes even places that don’t.

    Yet nobody complains about this. Despite there being very little evidence that anyone catches any disease from another customer walking around the enclosed space without a shirt and/or shoes on. How do I know there’s little transmission of disease from shirtless and/or shoeless people to others? Well lots of places exist where going without a shirt or shoes is common… places like indoor pools, dance clubs, gym locker rooms, yoga studios, massage parlors, and T-shirt stores on beachfront boardwalks for some examples… and having been in all of these hundreds of times over my life, I can say that your chances of catching anything in either is pretty low.

    Essentially, the shoe rule seems to exist solely to prevent plantar’s wart spread in wet environments, and I’m not really sure why the shirt rule exists except that people think some people look “ugly” without a shirt on.

    Why isn’t everyone up in arms about the science-free imposition of shirts and/or shoes on people who would rather go without them? Shirts and shoes cost way more to buy than masks do… imposing much more cost on freedom-loving semi-to-full nudists and poor people to participate in society.

    Why is it only masks that fuel such rage at employees who are simply enforcing the law? Why can’t people grow up and simply comply with the law, in the same way that I eventually outgrew my childhood passion for taking off my shoes and walking around everywhere barefoot?

  10. @Dave – I think conservatives should have embraced masks ( and airlines can require them as a condition of carriage, but a federal mandate (which may be illegal should only be in place in limited circumstances where there’s scientific evidence that it is protecting people from each other, which the CDC’s own guidance suggests in most cases it’s no longer necessary to do given the widespread availability of vaccines.

  11. @derek –

    “People say don’t require masks, citing the CDC. The CDC change was aspirational, not based on cases numbers. Sure, cases are down but still reasonably high.”

    No, the change was based on *vaccination* not case numbers, stating that once you’re vaccinated you are not at meaningful risk and do not post meaningful risk to others.

    “The UK is also just as vaccinated as the US and they have many cases so this complacency is too early.”

    The UK has a 7 day moving average of fewer than 5 cases per 100,000 population each day, and they’ve been primarily relying on the less effective AstraZeneca vaccine.

    In any case this is not about *complacency* it is about whether a federal mask mandate is a meaningful public health measure at this point.

    1) Everyone 12+ in the country now has access to a vaccine (and those under 12 are at statistically less risk than vaccinated older Americans)
    2) Those who are vaccinated aren’t spreading the virus or catching it, in the words of the director of the CDC so there’s little benefit to masking let alone sufficient benefit to make it a federal requirement
    3) So those at meaningful non-background risk from the virus are largely those choosing not to be vaccinated. There’s no reason to place a federal mandate on everyone that’s getting vaccinated to protect those who choose not to do so.
    4) Especially when lifting the mandate as a ‘reward’ for vaccination helps to… encourage vaccination, which would be better for public health.

  12. @Seth – if you want to make the case that everyone in the country should be required to wear masks – even though those who have been vaccinated aren’t catching or spreading the disease at more than a normal background risk rate – to protect the very small number of people who can’t become immune from vaccination then we should at least be explicit at that as a reason.

  13. @Dave, while children are less at risk than older Americans, there is still risk from unvaccinated adults with unknown long-term consequences for children. Wearing masks for a few hours on a plane is a small imposition that will keep them safe . Also, the data you provide in your prior article is cherry-picked from an economist (not an epidemiologist) with a significant bias.

  14. @garry

    Not forever, but until case rates are low and stable. This population already has to manage other virus risks, if covid was more in the range of these others it would be fine.

    We just need to take some modest measures for a short time (6 months?) Until case loads have been stable and contract tracing can keep up.

    This is for about 3% of Americans, not a ton but still a lot of people. I’m not saying require everywhere, just places that are very hard to avoid.

  15. @Arthur – I wear my mask outdoors if I’m crowds and inside and I’m fully vaccinated. If more people understood the science they would as well. This vaccine was rushed understandably so. There isn’t the dearth of evidence and research and no one really knows how long immunity even lasts and whether it’s truly protective against some of the strains we’re seeing (especially someone vaccinated in January as I was).

    Why do I wear one? Because of respect for others. We could learn something from the Asians cultures. Ntm I haven’t been sick for over a year even during this especially cold winter we had.

    I am actually shocked at all of the people who know refuse to wear one.

  16. Since when have air travel security measures made any sense? The FAA has for decades required us to switch off our cell phones, without any valid reason. (something vague about it interfering with the plane’s communications? It was preposterous even when the rule was made)
    We have to take our shoes off at the TSA and remove water bottles, and go through full body scanners — unless a terrorist does a simple background check, get TSA pre, and then he/she can pretty much smuggle anything on board. It’s “security theater” — it makes people feel safer and better about themselves and it shows that the TSA is doing stuff “to make us safer”.

    Wearing a mask was absolutely necessary during the pandemic, and anti-maskers have caused tens of thousands of deaths, if not hundreds of thousands of deaths, in the United States alone. I have no doubt about that.
    But now that the pandemic is winding down due to mass vaccination, mandating that vaccinated people get covid tests (to enter the US) and keep wearing masks on airplanes is “hygiene theater”. I don’t mind keeping mask wearing up a few more weeks — until the July 4 date, for example, when 70% of Americans will be vaccinated.
    But eventually when we know it’s hygiene theater, it is our responsibility to stop complying.
    Are some people still at risk? At the moment, yes — that’s why the masks could go on a bit longer perhaps. But soon they will not be, because the virus will no longer circulate. It needs lots of infectable bodies to spread, and it will have access to only 20% of bodies it encounters and that’s just not enough for the infection numbers to increase anymore. So, cases decrease until they stop, that is how pandemics always end. Eventually you get to the point where only every 10th sick person is even able to infect anybody — and so the cases dwindle and dwindle and the few people getting reinfected or breakthrough infections are only mildly ill also and don’t spread it either. (consider that recovered sick people are also immune in most cases and slowing the pandemic down even more — so 70% vaccination might mean 85% of the population is protected in reality)

  17. Over a hundred million Americans have still not even had one COVID-19 vaccination jab, and so the mask mandate for crowded planes and airports remain.

  18. Strange how the respect thing, with respect to masks, is only a 1-way street. Those who believe all the many valid studies showing masks do little to nothing to stop the spread of a virus and/or believe the science that says covid has never been much of a threat to healthy young people and even less of a threat than the seasonal flu for the very young…etc., apparently deserve no respect and MUST wear the mask anyway. Weird how that works.

  19. You EAT in a restaurant, that is the purpose of it, what sense for customers to wear a mask? In a store, you can walk away from a cluster of people. If you think conditions are too crowded and risky, you can leave. On a plane, you are seated elbow to elbow with strangers, it is closer quarters than a restaurant or a store, and it isn’t exactly an option to get up and leave. I am vaccinated and I hate wearing a mask but more than I hate wearing it, I would hate for unvaccinated people not wearing masks to spread Covid to each other on a plane.

  20. Flight attendants have ruined the flying experience and the industry as a whole. Although, I do know one Southwest flight attendant who will think twice now before harassing others… never know….it nay just be the right one.

  21. It is time for the mandate to go, it is only causing more problems than it solves. People are tired of restrictions on their lifestyles. Too often the frustration is vented in rude behavior or worst yet in violence or threats of violence. It is playing out everywhere not just on airplanes. Domestic violence calls are up significantly since pre-Covid. Crime is up significantly. Rudeness in stores and other public places is up. Part of the cause for this behavior are mask. It is much easier psychologically for many people to yell at a mask instead of the face of a person. Combine that with people putting up with the self appointed mask police and employees of all businesses who are on a power trip of being able to tell others how to live. People are just fed up with it. I live in a part of Texas where we largely ignored the mask mandate of our governor and the other restrictions as well. But even here, when the Governor removed the mask mandate and fully opened everything up back in March, there was a very noticeable uptick in people’s attitudes. People were happier and ready to get on with life. There was renewed optimism.
    For AA CEO Parker to blame it on the quality of people flying today is a joke in itself, first I do not buy the argument but even if it is true, he is reaping the reward from the policies he created. The airlines want business travel to resume. Well, the best way to do that is end the mandates. I have had several opportunities to fly on business and pleasure over the past few months but have rejected all of them. I am opting to drive 14 hours each way to a business meeting in 2 weeks rather than fly simply because I do not want all of the drama and lousy service associated with flying right now. At the conference I do not have to wear a mask, restaurants are not requiring mask, and I certainly do not have to wear a mask anywhere in route on my road trip.
    The flight attendant unions are never going to support ending the mask. It is a great deal to not have to provide any service for the duration of the flight. At this point in time that is all the mask mandate is about, flight attendants not having to provide service and the current administration wanting to exercise control over people.

  22. Señor Leff,

    Any word on how it is to keep a mask on young children on your flights? I assume you have at least one relative who is not vaccinated against Covid-19 yet and that there are still passengers on your flights who haven’t been vaccinated. That’s a recipe for Covid-19 infections
    risk on and off the plane and health problems even for children, whether or not the unvaccinated were to pretend to be vaccinated in order to have another excuse to avoid mask use.

  23. @GUWonder,

    1. My young daughter does great with masks. Probably I’m just lucky, but she’s gotten used to them, it wasn’t something we just did with her for the first time in an airport. We bring different kinds of masks, including masks with characters on them that she likes. If she gets tired of the mask, we bring out a different one.

    2. Young children are at statistically less risk from Covid-19 than vaccinated older Americans.

    3. Young children certainly aren’t at risk from those who have been vaccinated with mRNA vaccines.

    4. The masks that most children, and even adults, wear provide little protection. I was a strong proponent of masking through the pandemic, but a proponent of quality masks, properly fitted. The mandate doesn’t require this.

    5. People can still wear masks without a federal requirement.

  24. Can we just call them “flight police” instead of flight attendants and then buttiegieg will want to defund them.

  25. @chris
    Why don’t you do your own test by refusing to buckle up and see what happens.
    Then after it happens, sue the airline and the FA. We would all like to see what happens.
    Don’t forget to tell your lawyer the FA was harassing you.

  26. They should at least lift it for the vaccinated. Instead they treat is like we are at the same risk as the unvaccinated. Yes, we could show our card, anyone who thought it violated their rights could just wear a mask instead. I understand caution but we are at a point of ridiculous.

  27. “Wearing masks for a few hours on a plane is a small imposition that will keep them safe “

    Sorry, no. KMA. The world doesn’t revolve around you and your children.

  28. Buttplug and Biden must EARN respect. You cannot force it. But I doubt those two understand what “earn” means.

  29. Even after badly bungling the covid pandemic, at least Trump got vaccinated. Why won’t his followers? He doesn’t seem that much smarter than they are.

  30. Somebody needs to kick this guy upside the head. We should not be required to wear masks. If you’re concerned about your health, for God’s sake, wear a mask. Leave the rest of us alone. If you’re flight crew, wear a mask. If you’re tix/gate agents, wear a mask. Just wear a mask if you’re worried. The government politicians and bureaucrats need to go back to doing some real work and stop fooling around wasting time with the virus.

  31. The FA union leaders want more ‘safety’ reasons for existence as a way to angle for higher pay. This, despite the likelihood the mask mandate is creating violent incidents that put crews in harm’s way.

    They thought having a federal mandate when Biden came in would make the enforcement life easier. What they didn’t gamble on was vaccination happening so quickly and people saying enough – this makes no sense – and a small but visible % acting out in cabin.

    Time to end the mandate on domestic flights.

  32. And how will anyone know that the unmasked person sitting very close to them is actually vaccinated? They do not. Cruise ships are requiring vaccines for this reason. Airlines are not requiring vaccines but wants people to feel safe flying so everyone still needs masks. I think the recent fight on SW (where the flight attendant lost teeth) was over landing tray table and seat positions, its not just about masks. Too many people choose to behave like children now.
    And Gary- if you normally remove racist comments, maybe you can remove the homophobic ones too.

  33. Doug Parker’s comment about the different clientele is true as well.

    Fares got so low people who wouldn’t normally fly are in the skies. Add to that more flexible work hours and some unemployed who have enough cash coming in to handle a vacation.

    Fares are up so hopefully 2-3 months from now the traveler mix will become more ‘professional’

  34. Yes the FA union is pushing this and we all know this regime is tight with unions.

    Life has risks. Just look at all of the ridiculous warning labels on products and advertisements. Can’t we just for once stop catering to the lowest common denominators in society, and stop being a bunch of snowflakes.

  35. Add this to your Top 10
    List of Hoaxer/Trump Sycophant/QAnon Worshipping/White Nationalist/Anti-Vaxxer Triggering posts Gary, well done!

  36. The dirt cheap economy class fares seem to be a relic of history now, be elsewhere, or be nowhere of relevance to my travel plans.

    With July economy class roundtrip fares from the Midwest hubs to SFO at around $550+ per passenger — with no checked luggage even included — the ticket prices are higher now than they were for me before the pandemic.

  37. henry L above. I assume you want the racist who grabs women by their genitals and mocks the disabled back in office, as do other White Supremacists nationwide. We have adults in the White House now, not racist morons

    and ChrisCan above is clearly a disgusting homophobe. that’s your audienceGary, you attract a lot of bigots

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