This week a photo of a United Airlines flight attendant not wearing a mask went fairly viral, because airlines have been kicking two year old children off of planes for lack of masks. Surely the ones tasked with ensuring compliance should do so themselves (“Caesar’s wife must be beyond reproach”)?
Earlier this month Allegiant Air removed a passenger who objected to a flight attendant not wearing a mask. Several commenters on social media have noted an unusually high number of Allegiant flight attendants going maskless.
We’re in a global pandemic. Airlines require masks for passengers and crew. While I’ve been skeptical about the effectiveness of what some people pass for masks (and it’s shocking this far into the pandemic that high quality masks aren’t widely available to everyone), there’s reason to believe that even 50% effective masks can reduce viral load exposure 10-fold.
It’s reasonable for a passenger to expect that their fellow passengers and cabin crew will be wearing masks. But what should a passenger do if a flight attendant isn’t wearing a mask? It’s reasonable to be both concerned for health, but also reticent to challenge flight crew out of fear of being removed from the aircraft or having law enforcement called.
United and American both offered feedback on what’s a customer to do when faced with a flight attendant who won’t wear a mask?
- United Airlines shared an internal communication saying that flight attendants who do not wear a mask “are subject to discipline up to and including termination.” When pressed for a customer solution, a spokesperson suggested “customers can work with another employee or write to us after their trip.” Writing after the trip does nothing to protect passengers, of course. Speaking to another employee may (or may not) be more likely to avoid confrontation.
- American Airlines also recommends speaking to a different flight attendant,
Our flight attendants take seriously their responsibility to ensure the safety of all customers while traveling with us. This includes making sure that our customers are properly wearing face coverings and that they, themselves, are also complying. The overwhelming majority of flight attendants comply with American’s face covering requirements. In the rare event that’s not the case, a customer should let any flight attendant on board know of the issue. When these types of issues are raised, we address them immediately with the team member.
The truth is there’s no good answer. My suggestion is to ask another crewmember for assistance – while stating firmly that if the employee opts not to wear a mask that you’d like to be let off the aircraft. And I would record the entire interaction, so it doesn’t become ‘he said she said’ later. This may not make for a pleasant flight, but it probably was going to be stressful with unmasked cabin crew anyway.
What would you do?