What Should You Do When It’s Flight Attendants Not Wearing Masks?

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”)?

Masks for thee but not me. UA2425 (MCO to IAH) was packed. All were required to wear masks except for the stewards.. from r/houston

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?

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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  1. I had this issue in southwest…the person was. Pilot who was in uniform but sitting in my row heading to another flight. He walked on with a bandana under his nose, and pulled it down as soon as he got on the plane. Kept it around his neck for all 3 hours of flight.

    No one said nothing to him. I wrote to southwest after and they said sorry. That’s it.

    Very upsetting

  2. “it’s shocking this far into the pandemic that high quality masks aren’t widely available to everyone”

    They may not be available for free (which really surprises me, given how easily a company could hand out branded masks cheaply and get good PR exposure from it), but they are now available cheaply and widely. Target has good multi-layer cloth masks for $2 apiece in a variety of styles, and the last couple times I’ve been to my local, it appears highly-stocked. I’ve picked some up and they are comfortable to wear as well.

  3. I would hit my call button and demand she be removed from the flight or request a different flight for me. What a selfish b$%^&. I hope she is fired immediately and the rest of that crew for not telling her to wear one. There are few health condition that would disallow wearing a mask and if she had one of them, she should be flying.

    Nice UA. . .another reason I will never fly you ever.

  4. Simple solution. The chief pilot is captain of the ship. He/she is ultimately responsible for the safety of the crew and passengers. The airline should suspend the captain, prosecute and fire him/her.
    Effected passengers have the right to sue the airline for damages just like a pilot error crash.

  5. Report it to United. They aren’t joking around with this policy and inflight. And they’re in a position to pruning bad apples from the tree

  6. @tom “How can we know this photo wasn’t taken last year?”

    Ummm…Notice anything missing from the seat pockets?

  7. There’s a reason the USA leads the world in COVID deaths…we have a culture of inconsistency following the simple 3-step rule of protection: “hands, face, and space.” Not s surprise to see airlines and hotels in financial trouble as careful people like me who previously travel 200+ days a year have not been out since March 7. Common courtesy with concern seems to be alow priority even with a pandemic which can spread several days prior to feeling symptoms.

  8. This is infuriating. Masks don’t only protect other people, they protect the wearer. Not wearing them is not only violating policy it’s actively harmful. How many segments and different places did this FA have and could spread COVID? Furthermore, even as an airline brat myself, I have no patience for flight attendants/crew who go on power trips when they’re correctly called out for stuff like this. This woman should be disciplined.

  9. @Gary US is 10th in per capita deaths out of more than 200 countries. And, of those over 100M population, only Brazil and Mexico are close to us. I’d say you’re splitting hairs. Our death rate is atrocious.

  10. @Paul

    That’s right, fire the Captain (not the Chief Pilot, that is something completely different) that is locked in the cockpit because that will surely solve the problem.

  11. @Gary, not per capita but you’d think a country that is supposed to be a world leader would find a way to not lead in overall deaths nor be top 10 in per capita deaths

  12. I’ve been traveling and flying heavily since Mid May and masked since. Be that as it may, I believe masks have their purpose but should not be required, and should be left to each individuals personal choice. In the case of the UA flight attendant , who knows when the picture was taken? It wouldn’t bother me if she didn’t have it on.

  13. Enough with this coronavirus BS. This is just another type of Flu. Forget all the craziness made up by the liberals and move on with your lives.

  14. I would thank her for taking it off for many reasons. First off for the acknowledgement that they don’t work vs viruses. Next that I can hear her easier, and get visual cues easier on a loud plane. In addition to that I will have more confidence that in an emergency she will be able to handle it rather than having to worry about a useless mask restricting her breathing.

    This virus is no deadlier than a flu anyways. Mask restrictions, lockdowns, etc are not needed. I won’t fly until this insanity and mass hysteria ends.

  15. I video’d an unmasked F/A last week red-eye out of ANC

    http://makeagif.com/i/eY7y4l

    You may have to slide mp4 to gif to play

    If only the gesticulating this gif shows, wasn’t accompanied by the boisterous yapping and laughing. I doubt I would have noticed this FA’s personal mask-antipathy, but because it loud enough that it was impossible to sleep.

  16. Whomever took that picture can be used by the flight attendant. It’s a federal violation to take pictures of crew members. Also we don’t know when this picture was taken. It could have been when mask exemptions where in place. These mask overall is just irrelevant. The best defense to the virus is your immune health.

  17. Nick must be on of those “Nay-Sayers that are still either ignorant about the coronavirus or is just plane stupid. JFWJ

  18. Crucified her! Calm down people. Who’s to say she didn’t forget for that one minute/moment that the person took this picture? I have left my car a few times and had to run back because I forgot my mask.

  19. It’s sad how so many Americans are such a bunch of scared, easily-fooled f**king whiners. It’s a real disease, however nowhere near as bad as it is made out to be. It’s not the Black Plague, sheeple. If I encountered a flight attendant without a mask, it would give me comfort that things perhaps are returning to normal. I might even slip her a tip and compliment her on not being another overly-compliant chump. Happy Contrails!!

  20. My biggest fear from covid is accidentally leaving the cockpit without my mask on and having 200 people whip out their smarphones snapping pictures of me intending to get me fired.

  21. @sharon “It’s a federal violation to take pictures of crew members.”

    That is not true. And if there was such a law, it would be an unconstitutional abridgment of the freedom of the press ensrined in the first amendment. If you are lawfully present in a particular place, the US government (generally) can’t prohibit you from taking pictures.

  22. @Tom

    You abrogate you’re rights to whatever the contract of carriage states. An Aircraft is a privately owned vessel and THEY set the rules, its their craft! You also give up your rights under the 4th amendment when you go through TSA. Don’t kid yourselves.

  23. @Don: That was not what Sharon’s claim was. Her claim was that it was a violation of federal law. That’s very different than a violation of the contract of carriage.

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