Time To Mask Up On Planes Again?

We’re entering another Covid wave. Peak will probably come in mid-January. In the meantime there’s a lot more Covid in the U.S. We can see that in case numbers, but most cases go undetected. Perhaps the best data source is wastewater measures.

The good news is that hospitalizations and deaths no longer follow the way they used to. Infection fatality has declined markedly. Some of that is because the virus itself has become less deadly as it spreads faster. Some of it is because of background immunity, both from vaccination and higher infection, that at least primes the immune system even if it only reduces the likelihood of getting sick. And some of it is because so many of the most vulnerable people have already died.

Bottom-line, Covid-19 is with us and rising again, but it’s no longer as dangerous. Masking isn’t required on public transportation any longer in the U.S., however the CDC is back to recommending masking. Most people won’t listen.

Indeed, most of the masks I do see in airports and on planes are cloth or cheap paper masks. That I do not understand.

  • Low quality masks made sense as a strategy to meet the requirements in place without providing protection.

  • If you’re going to mask when it’s not required, the whole point seems like actual protection so you should wear a good mask.

Still, the CDC’s point – which seems right – is that you can protect yourself and others (from you) not just from Covid-19 but also flu and RSV which are spreading at high levels as well.

Long before the pandemic I wanted to wear masks on planes, the way it’s been common in Asia for years, as a way of avoiding the flu when that’s prevalent. I just hate getting sick. I don’t like feeling sick and I don’t have time for the reduced productivity it brings. I do feel like I have social permission to do so now.

I’m not particularly high risk for Covid-19. I’ve had it once, I didn’t love it, but it was fine. I’m up to date on my boosters. And if I get it again I’ll tell my doctor I want Paxlovid, just in case.

I still carry N95, KN95, and KF94 masks in my laptop bag. Maybe it’s time to put one on again in crowded indoor spaces when frankly I’m not looking for any kind of social interaction anyway?

To be clear I see little reason to mandate masks. That’s because

  1. delaying infection has little public health benefit to the extent that we’re not using that as a bridge to vaccines and better treatments
  2. we’re not currently facing a collapsing health care system the way we risked one at other points during the pandemic.

Instead I see it as a personal choice to protect oneself, either as someone especially vulnerable or just because it sucks worse to get sick than to wear a mask. I wouldn’t wear one inflight in a premium cabin on a transoceanic trip, by the way. Relative risk is lower, and personal cost to wearing one higher, than just in the airport or during boarding and deplaning.

Is masking up for flu, RSV, and Covid during peaks something you would consider?

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. I like wearing a cheap mask on a plane when I sleep merely for the fact that it makes my nasal passages less dry and is more comfortable. Let people determine their own preferences and risk etc. I can’t stand the n95’s but would wear them if my health and risk dictated it.

  2. @Samuel

    Masks works and worked for me. I’ve taken 2 roundtrips from SFO to SYD within the past 2 months and no COVID. I have not contracted COVID since the pandemic started. And also I’m not vaccinated. Masks don’t guarantee that you won’t get COVID, flu..etc but it helps to lessen the chance. Just like wearing a seat belt. Does it guarantee you from not dying?

  3. Per a previous comment, in a Randomized Control Trial of 1009 health care workers in 4 countries treating COVID patients, they were given either N95 respirators or medical masks and tracked for 9 weeks. The study was not able to “blind” the participants due to the visible differences in the masks.

    In other words, N95 respirators might make you feel safer, but they don’t seem to do anything for Covid. So, requiring them is illogical and evil.

    Here is the link to the RCT results in the Annals of Internal Medicine:

    thttps://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M22-1966

  4. I still wear one until I’m up in the air. If I am sitting next to someone on a flight (less often than you’d think with my particular schedule), I’ll wear it then as well.

    I wear one because I don’t know the reasons for people traveling around me. If I’m in a bar, people choose to be there. If someone is on public transportation or on a flight, I have no idea why someone is there, so I mask. Just seems like the nice thing to do to help protect others, particularly with COVID, RSV, and the flu going around.

  5. Decades of immunological research demonstrates that widespread public masking has no statistical impact on viral spread. You can protect yourself with a properly fitted (there are different sizes!), properly worn (no facial hair!), regularly changed (damp masks don’t work!) N95 mask. Anything else is basically useless.

  6. Some of us masks for a third reason: to protect other people who are more vulnerable. Many people don’t have resistance and the less transmission there is the safer they are. Yes, a desire to protect other people is a possibility and some Americans still have communitarian values.

  7. There is a tripledemic right now and part of it is probably due to the lack of contact among many people worldwide; now all those diseases are mixing througout society.
    The best course of action, as it was during covid, is for people who are genuinely at high risk for respiratory issues is to stay out of high public contact settings.
    United did a study early in the pandemic that shows that aircraft air filtration systems – which existed long before covid – are very effective at minimizing virus transmission – and that is still true.
    People act as if commercial aircraft are the risk and then don’t take protective measures in other places.

  8. Please PLEASE stop with the useless and toxic mask propaganda! The never worked against viruses. This was known and knowable long before the coronascam. Just stop already.

  9. Well-articulated. The responses/comments, not so much. It’s interesting reading the other blogs on boardingarea that VFTW generally gets way more polarized responses and comments no matter if the topic Gary posts about is benign. Not sure why.

  10. Is Gary @Samual? How else does the wingnut always get the first comment? Mask stories make the best clickbait. Worked on me.

  11. When will people follow the science that masks DO NOT WORK!!!!!!!!!!!!! Air travel is bad enough and made worse wearing face diapers that study after study have shown have little if any effect on covid, yet they do have proven health concerns by breathing in your own CO2 for hours!

    If people are stupid enough to wear them then let them, but don’t mandate it to the vast majority who hate them and know they don’t do shit.

    So STOP with the STUPID MASK mandate talk!

  12. Everyone is a medical expert now. Much like the slogan “If it isn’t Boeing I’m not going”…”If I gotta wear a mask, I’m not flying”. Not the same ring to it but it is not worth the price. I have bad asthma and wearing even a light mask for more than a few minutes causes me a lot of issues. My wife is deaf and primarily reads lips which are too taxing on her. I don’t have to fly to travel. I also have to ask myself if covid is so dangerous that we need to wear a mask and get vaccinated then why would I risk my life to go on vacation?

  13. Why won’t people just follow the science, nothing but a properly fitted n-95 (not discussing other dual filtered masks, etc) has any effect on virus transmission. Well documented in peer reviewed medical journals, including the NEJM. Stop the nonsense.

  14. Look orange man lost so the media doesn’t report on Covid any more. Covid served it purpose to steal the election from orange man bad

  15. Anyone who thinks mask made a difference is not smart. Masking is faith-based, quasi religious virtue signaling.

  16. Gary bots all over this board. @Samual, Koggerj, ect. Auto-response within 30 seconds on my post. Need to get Elon on this.

  17. I contracted RSV from my 7-year old grandson while visiting him in Wisconsin and subsequently had to take two flights to get back home to Washington, DC. As I read about the number of cases of RSV, flu and COVID rising, I thought it prudent to mask up, as much to preclude my spreading RSV to anyone else as to keep anyone else from sharing their germs with me. Yes, it’s a tad inconvenient but having lost a cousin to COVID in a matter of two short weeks, it’s a small price to pay. Let’s be empathic and consider how we may impact other’s lives and health, especially at this time when we are all looking forward to spending the holidays with family (and that’s best done when one is not sick or contagious). By the way, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many others were also wearing masks, and appreciative of their consideration. Safe travels everyone and happy holidays.

  18. N95 masks work. They are not hard to put on. With a little practice, you can get a tight seal. They offer more protection that car seat belts but most use car seat belts. The number of people dead from car accidents is roughly 50,000 per year, not 500,000 as with Covid.

  19. My partner (3xvax,2xbooster, COVID tested negative before boarding) just caught breakthrough COVID on Day 0-1 of our cruise and went symptomatic and into quarantine on Day 3. She has it bad with sore throat, muscle aches, throwing up, etc. by Day 5 and is still sick 4 days after the cruise ended. COVID is still with us, folks, and cruise lines, etc. dropping vaccination proof, proctored COVID tests prior to boarding or masking while waiting in ques prior to boarding are putting passengers at risk. Masks and increased room ventilation have kept me from getting COVID while in very close proximity to my partner for the last week or so. Having asthma, I have used masks for 30+ years and know firsthand that they are useful. Sorry, DaninMCI, but I find that masks can stop asthma flares rather than impair breathing and often find it easier to sleep with one on, especially during pollen season. Biden, Fauci, and the collusion involved between the FBI and media to influence the election outcome may be bad, but masks are good.

  20. @Chris

    The study you cited is not able to conclude (and does not conclude) that N95s do nothing to prevent COVID infections. All the study can conclude, if you read all their results and limitations, is that *in a hospital setting*, that they do not have a large measurable difference between a surgical mask and an N95 in terms of PCR-confirmed COVID infections.

    Why is that relevant? Because hospitals have several unique features: they have higher levels of air filtration and ventilation, and a good number, if not most patients may also be wearing surgical masks at a minimum.

    Also, this did not control for infections that were likely to have occurred outside the hospital at home, in restaurants, etc.

    Several other studies have shown a measurable and significant difference (reduced infections) in populations that used masks and those that didn’t. (The Bangladesh study and the Massachusetts schools study)

  21. Dyson (vacuums etc) has a mask. Can’t say exactly how it works but for $900+ it better deliver the best air you’ve experienced! I believe in a good, well fitted mask. They work. But the Dyson might be a bridge to far. However the trolls are just going to love its dorkiness!

  22. A significant difference? Really? in the Bangladesh study there were 620 less cases in the intervention group (masked) vs the control group. There were 178,000 people in the control group and about the same in the intervention group, I’m not seeing a “significant difference”. Furthermore the study was all based on self reporting. Not sure how scientifically valid that was at the end of the day.

  23. @ paul o’brien — Would you prefer that I sneeze in your direction with or without a mask on? Think for a second. I know it is hard.

  24. Would you prefer I punch you in the face if you were that ignorant and cannot remember to cover your mouth and nose?

  25. As we fly off to Finland for the holidays, we will again be wearing our masks on flights (four of them). As well as on the public transportation systems in Finland, Sweden and Estonia. And, we will also be wearing them on the overnight ferry between Helsinki and Stockholm and back. And on the 2 hour ferry ride from Helsinki to Tallinn. And, most importantly, we will wear our masks on the ten hour train ride from Helsinki to Roveniemi (the North Pole) to make last minute suggestions to the big guy at the real North Pole.

    Let’s face it. The holiday season is just mass crowds everywhere you go. Will it prevent us from getting Covid: maybe. Will we get it if we don’t wear masks: possibly. One thing that I am absolutely positive about is the fact that many people are CONVINCED that masks don’t work, and that they do work. As none of the above respondents are experts in their own minds, we will go on our own way, fully convinced that no one has the answer for each of us as individuals.

    With that out of the way, we would like to wish each and every one of you, a very happy holiday and a healthy, successful and prosperous new year.

  26. there’s no point of arguing mask usage…. it’s like asking people: do you think having sex with condom, or, driving with seat belt, will protect you?
    I heard so many people saying: “…I am 40 and I never wear a condom, I am perfectly fine now….”; or, “…I am 40’s and I never wear a seat belt while driving, see I am still alive…”
    Well, all it takes is just ONCE, you’ll regret for the rest of your life. So let those NA sayers deny the medical science, if they want to take a chance with their own health or life, let it be.
    But I don’t know about you, I want to stay alive and be healthy. When I travel, being sick is not an option…. So I wear mask in closed quarters indoor. Who care what the Trump supporters say, let them choose their own destiny… I choose mine….

  27. I guess you better not take your mask off to eat and drink. Oh ya the virus or any virus stops when the food service is on.

  28. I don’t trust morons like Samuel so I never stopped wearing masks. There’s too many selfish assholes like that in the world to believe that the stranger sharing my air isn’t the kind of person that would knowingly give someone a disease to own the libs

  29. @ David Szerfag — Seems you are the ignorant one if you think putting my hand over my face is as effective as a mask.

  30. If anyone is forced to wear masks it SHOULD be the easily brainwashed sheep who were dumb enough to take the clot shots…. there is AMPLE evidence showing that THEY are the ones getting sick and spreading it. In fact, they should all be forced to PERMANTLY quarantine themselves as they are just too stupid to be outside unsupervised.

  31. Would never wear. And if, god forbid, it became mandated again (don’t think legally let’s go Brandon can do so) I would just wear my fake mask, which is basically two layers of pantyhose. If YOU want to wear a mask, by all means, do so. You look like an idiot, but have at it.

  32. Viral particles are much, MUCH too small to be stopped by any mask. It’s equivalent to putting up a chain-link fence to keep out mosquitoes. Masks are only used to contain gross droplets. This has been proven time and time again and anyone who thinks any differently has a huge steaming pile of sh!t for brains. You can wear your oxygen-blocking face diapers if you’re “special” enough, but I WILL NOT!!! Oh, and just TRY getting in face about it, you’ll wind up bloody for it. I guarantee it.

  33. Still waiting to see those stats showing incidence of CV19 taking off after the airline mask mandate was lifted on 4/18. Anyone care to post it?

  34. The 3M Aura N95 mask is comfortable and easy to wear. You can get it at your local Home Depot.

  35. Good job @Gary, that title worked to get views and comments. Gold star for blogging 101. 🙂
    On masks: Honestly it really should be chacun a son gout by now. If you want to wear a mask, have at it. If you don’t, fine too, just don’t sit next to me and cough and sneeze all over me.
    I was wearing masks on long-haul flights for some years before the pandemic for one singular reason — aerotoxic syndrome. I have quite sensitive lungs and on some ‘planes, if the engine seals weren’t good I would develop nasty coughs after flying. Sometimes you can smell it, sometimes you can’t. [The only aircraft that never uses engine bleed air for the cabin is a 787. Some A350s use external air but it’s a purchaser option and I don’t know how to tell which A350 is which.]
    Sooooo… now we are back to flying again I will be wearing my charcoal-lined masks on long-hauls . I’m sure they do a good job on other nasties too, but that’s not why I’m wearing them.
    FWIW, I spent a lot of time in Hong Kong pre-pandemic where memories of SARS were still raw, and mask wearing was commonplace. Hence I don’t find it that odd.
    I just think it’s sad that mask wearing has become a political issue, wen in fact, it’s just a matter of courtesy, personal choice and common sense.

  36. Gene you simply aren’t too bright based on your comments ! Not sure why this is still a topic. It is personal choice to mask or not mask up. I have had both shots, two boosters ( Moderna) and still got Covid. It was a NON event. It is no longer my job to protect others who choose not to get vaccinated and I won’t be wearing a mask just to appease those who won’t get vaccinated. Anyone in the US can get vaccinated for free. There choice not to do so my choice not to wear a mask. SIMPLE!

  37. @ Woofie
    Thank you for the explanation about engine seals. I am sensitive to odors (like a bloodhound). Over the years there I’ve smelled both fuel & exhaust at times. And various opinions but yours makes the most sense.
    I too had worn masks in asia pre covid and am comfortable continuing to do so. It’s just an easy healthy practice.

  38. I always like the argument that “people in Asia wear masks during flu season” as if it somehow proves something. Some people in Asia believe that rhino horns can be used to improve sexual prowess, which btw almost drove rhinos to extinction due to pouching. How can you be sure that belief in masks is any different? If anything, more and more evidence points to the fact that recent mass masking have done significantly more harm than rhino hunting.

  39. @ CMorgan — It is a requirement that you follow federal and local rules when using public transportation. You are “free” to rent your own car or plane or mule or whatever, but if the mask rule returns, you would have no choice but to wear one if you want to fly on a commercail airline. Too bad for you.

  40. If the person who has COVID (and probably doesn’t know) isn’t wearing a mask to capture the exhaled virus particles, the efficacy of masks is reduced by 60-70%. This is the end result: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2211029 Wearing masks works WELL when EVERYONE wears them; otherwise, not as much.

    Lifting of universal masking has cost the US dearly, with millions of people unable to work due to long COVID or having to care for someone with it (labor shortage) and 1.2 million already in the grave (more shortages).

  41. An interesting cross section of opinions reflecting the politics of this country more than its science. I got 4 vacs and dropped the mask as fast as possible, my older son (3 vacs) is a judge, not a scientist, but has small children and is very nervous about them getting RSV, flu or COVID so is pro-mask I don’t see the government bringing them back as a requirement short of a massive plague though. What I find fascinating is how the etiquette around them has developed. People seem to have reached the point of ignoring whether one is or is not wearing one and generally don’t comment either way. It’s a bit like not mentioning to another person what their ethnic group, religion, sexual orientation or whatever is unless there’s a legitimate reason to bring it up.

  42. No, not happening. I did not fly at all during the mandate but have returned to flying once or twice a month since it was lifted. If others want to mask that is their right but no mandates. I would simply quit flying again if a mandate was reimposed.

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