What The President-Elect’s Proposed Mask Rules Mean For Travelers

Masks are already required on U.S. airlines. There’s some variance in what the rules say. For instance American, United and Southwest all require 2 year olds to wear masks and do not permit medical exemptions. Delta exempts young children who contain maintain face coverings, and has a process to approve medical exemptions.

President-elect Joe Biden says that on his first day in office he’ll issue a federal order requiring masks for planes, trains and buses engaging in interstate travel.

  • That means he’ll also decide when the mask requirement stops

  • Fines for non-compliance may attach

  • And flight attendants have someone to blame (‘the government’s rules’) in any dispute.

We’ll see what the details of the rules are, and whether airlines follow them exactly or feel comfortable remaining more strict in what they require. Will the federal government really impose rules on two year olds as United, American, JetBlue and Southwest have? The new President may not want the personal backlash over two year olds kicked off a flight for refusing to wear a mask like on JetBlue and on American and also Southwest.

More likely a federal mandate will recommend but not require it for young children. Then will airlines relax their rules to conform to the President’s order? Those of you that have favored the federal government requiring something that the airlines already require should consider whether you’ll still be in favor of a federal mask mandate if that mandate becomes less restrictive than what we have today.

Airlines, left to their own devices, imposed the mandates knowing that passengers felt more confident traveling when they see everyone else around them taking precautions – and would likely remove the mandates at the point when the masks signal travel as being scary and when they’re an imposition that are no longer needed to instill confidence.

How promptly will mandate be lifted as vaccinations progress in the U.S.? Many epidemiologists want mask wearing to continue, even after everyone’s been vaccinated for Covid-19. A federal mandate won’t last forever, but will be cautious and responsive to voters not travelers. A mandate likely lasts until the new President ‘declares victory’ over Covid-19.

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. More stupidity from Covid-20, Coronavirus Derangement Syndrome. When will the sheep wake up?

  2. A completely unnecessary (since every airline already requires masks) order of questionable legality that now drags the Federal Government into this mask mess. The government always makes everything worse.

  3. Joe Biden is not the President-elect. The President-elect isn’t decided until the electoral votes are cast.

  4. @JamesN the pro death cultists like yourself are still fast asleep and bleating like sheep

  5. @JamesN calling people “sheep” should be a drinking game. Kinda like everytime the ” delusional right” claims voter fraud. I know science and math are hard for people. Maybe spend less time playing the banjo and fu$+ing your daughter and read a science book that isn’t the bible.. which is fiction.

  6. Gary, the comment section of your blog is disgusting. Nearly half of the comments are unprovoked ad hominem attacks where other posters routinely get stereotyped or even dehumanized. They add nothing to the conversation but affect an overall perception of this place a lot – as being unfriendly and disrespectful to its readers and commenters. Do you plan to do anything with that?

    Or maybe you consider this place more like free for all, full flame mode, “free speech” environment? That would be Ok, too, as long as you explicitly state it, so the readers know what to expect.

  7. Lol @ masks. I can’t believe this is still being talked about.
    Every chart you look at, clearly shows zero correlation between mask use and positive tests.
    If anyone looks at a chart, it’s just… plainly obvious there is no correlation.

    Any even mildly intrepid dive into the data shows this.

    BUT, it’s just like taking shoes off at TSA…. 15 years after a guy tried to light his foot on fire, we still take our shoes off. That’s how these things work.

    More inane ideas from the government, that do nothing, except make life more numbing for anyone with a brain.

    Can you imagine being uneducated enough to believe the government has magical powers to ‘know’ things? Or if you are still thinking Covid-19 is remotely an important news story?

    Lol, just crazy that some people buy this hook, line and sinker.

    George in Portugal

  8. More than 3,200 dead today and still the Trump Toadies want to complain about everything, including masks. The situation was grim enough before, but now looks more like ‘On the Beach’ by the day, while the vulgar grifter notionally in charge continues to bicker and bitch ,while people die due to his criminal neglect and incompetence. Such a sad situation…

  9. Death rates and hospitalization rates should drop by a huge amount by March or April as the elderly and vulnerable groups are vaccinated. The whole point to wearing masks and social distancing is to keep the disease numbers manageable so the heath system doesnt become overwhelmed. Once that has been achieved through vaccination of the groups that are most vulnerable, the whole point to masks and social distancing is over.

    People are really dumb if they actually think that the point is to stop everyone from getting it. If we did that it would take years and our economy would be beyond recoverable. Not even the Dems can print trillions for years. Things will open up as soon and restrictions eased on masks and social distancing by March or April. The political pressure will be too strong once the death and hospitalization rates plummet.

  10. The US is about to joint the civilized countries like Australia and New Zealand that used mandates to save lives? Wow. That day can’t come early enough.

    It’s absolutely incredible the dereliction of duty coming out of Washington. Just imagine if they did nothing after 9/11, yet we’re losing more people in a DAY than on 9/11!

  11. Airlines are not experts in epidemiology.

    I much rather have a non-politicized CDC (which the next Presidency is restoring) use experts to decide whether a 2 year old needs a surgical mask, not some marketing minion doing so based on surveys of what will increase revenues by the most amount of money and who certainly won’t be at my funeral!

  12. I occasionally ponder why so many Americans catch Covid on a daily basis. The anti-mask sentiment in this comment section tells me everything I need to know.

  13. @ Amy, you realize that Austrailia and New Zealand are islands, with the combined population of Texas?

    The policies that work on islands, will carry right on over to the US, with 13 times the population and a much easier interstate highways system that makes travel easy… I guess geography is hard.

  14. All, we recently traveled with our 3 year old on United. She had a mask on, but about 75% of the time it was around her neck. Not a single person at United said anything on 4 separate flights (although I did).

  15. Time to moderate the comments. There are some sick people out there whose comments add nothing but vitriol and disinformation.

  16. Leeman – I agree. Or Disqus so we can downvote people who are promoting unhealthy habits.

    I’m not sure Gary will mod everything you or I would prefer. He seems to believe that HEPA is the POWER OF GREYSKULL and it makes everything clean.

  17. Fascinating, nine months in and the bulk of Gary’s readership still believe this hoax. Actual research and critical thought is basically dead in society. Shout out to George, an almost lone voice that clearly understands what’s happening.

  18. Get ready – this is only the start of four years of government meddling and overreach into every facet of life as we know it. Within the next year so there will be so much government regulation, spying on individual citizens, taxation and intrusion into what was once our private lives that life in a Soviet Gulag would seem like a dream come true!!

  19. Wow Gary, the hoax nutters and reptilian trolls are really out in force in your comments on this one. I guess we know who primarily reads the blog at this point…

  20. The nutters and deceased that voted for Creepy Joe will have to await the SC decision on voter fraud.

  21. “Many epidemiologists want mask wearing to continue, even after everyone’s been vaccinated for Covid-19”

    This is the kind of shit you get when you let scientists run the world.

    Fu*k that.

  22. @IP

    You are 100% correct. But luckily, gropin’ joe won’t be president. There are MOUNTAINS of incontrovertible evidence proving wide-scale election fraud and that will not stand.

    *I’m sure the willfully ignorant will spew their usual hate and stupidity now* rolleyes

  23. @ 1KBrad – from the article Gary linked to: “As for the future, some said that parts of life could begin to return to normal sometime in the summer, thanks to vaccines. Others said some things would stay different, assuming a highly effective therapeutic drug isn’t developed. The most mentioned change: the persistence of mask-wearing, particularly in crowded places or when they felt sick.”

    The ‘most’ refers to wearing a mask when you are feeling sick. They’ve done that in Asia for decades.

    Serious question: is every freedom-loving antimasker here against that as well? Just want to gauge whether this group has any empathy at all.

  24. @Andrew: Where was the panic when 65,000 died of the seasonal flu last year?

    Asians culturally wear masks. We don’t.

    We’ve never worn masks in the past to protect others from diseases (even assuming they are much help). Using emotional blackmail (where is the empathy) doesn’t change that.

    If someone is sick, they should stay home.

  25. “Those of you that have favored the federal government requiring something that the airlines already require should consider whether you’ll still be in favor of a federal mask mandate if that mandate becomes less restrictive than what we have today.”

    That already is the case. Market forces exist to push that further, as is happening today. Those market forces don’t disappear if a lesser standard is applied because we already have a lesser standard that most airlines are going beyond

  26. I’m just waiting for that SOBiden to try to take my guns.i will be sure to have my mask on .,.
    Fuk him.

  27. @Jwinthedesert:

    “Joe Biden plans to move quickly against guns, adding the issue to his list of first executive orders, according to his top policy aide.”


  28. @1KBrad – people die of the flu each year – Covid is not just another flu. Or don’t you understand increased contagion + increased death rate.

    Don’t be an effing moron. Wait…too late. You have a simple mind. Go buy some guns stat, cause that’s sure to be 46’s most immediate priority on 1/20.

  29. I have worked as a nurse and/or a nurse educator for 40 years. I have worn a mask or other PPE as needed throughout my career. I do not understand all the furor over wearing masks. It is a small inconvenience. If it not really needed for COVID (or another disease) then no harm done. Masks are cheap & not difficult to wear although a bit hot at times. I am grateful I have not had to wear a hazmat suit (yet). I pick my battles & wearing a mask is not a problem for me, my colleagues, or my nursing students.

  30. @ James N. & 1kBrad. It’s refreshing to read comments from two who appear to actually get their information from research and NOT CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS and FaceBook. If folks think deaths are increasing this month, they are exactly correct. Go to the CDC website and find that November, December and January have the HIGHEST mortalities EVERY YEAR. This year is actually less than it was 20 years ago per 100k of US population. Austin, TX is currently trending with 1.3% of yearly reported Flu and hospital reports ICUs are NOT at capacity. Perhaps improved personal hygiene is more effective than lockdowns and masks.

  31. These comments are embarrassing for America…it’s like an alternative reality in here. Like a Parler discussion come to life.

    .99 correlation between these “it’s just another flu!” decriers and the “Biden ain’t no President-elect!” clowns.

  32. @ One Trippe – I am not sure about your research methods (hopefully it doesn’t involve trying to break into ICUs to see patients firsthand – please don’t do that), but I would recommend looking at the ICU utilization report from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/nhsn/covid19/report-patient-impact.html

    Looks like Texas may be doing worse than you think for ICU beds. Even if it isn’t acutely bad in Austin, there are hundreds of news sources reporting that Fort Worth / Denton County are in dire state.

  33. I suspect you’re right that the significance of Biden’s “mask rule” will be the end date. The evidence is now overwhelming that, in non-hospital settings, masks don’t prevent Covid-19 transmission (it’s now California’s turn to learn this lesson). There is no reason to believe masks are more effective on airplanes. Over time, more scientists will be willing to speak up about this and more people will understand the reality. And some foreign countries are likely to apply the science and do away with mask requirements before the USA does — showing the world that mask-less flights are equally safe. These developments — coupled with reduced Covid transmission through herd immunity (achieved by both vaccine and infection) will undoubtedly reduce mask compliance on USA flights. Hopefully, the mask rule ends without significant drama, but that’s not a bet I’d be willing to make given our contentious politics.

  34. I have been Executive Platinum on AA for 18 consecutive years including the carry over status to 2021. I have not flown since March 2, 2020 and have no plans to resume flying until the mask mandate is lifted. Air travel is enough of a hassle without having to wear a mask from the time I arrive at the airport till I leave the airport at my destination. I talk to a lot of frequent flyers and many feel the same way, they either are not flying at all or have cut it back to absolutely must fly trips. With the airlines in control they will lift the mandate as soon as it feasible to escape the complaints and encourage more people to fly. Those who want the Federal mandate should be careful what they wish for because you are going to receive it. It was first said, that a Biden mandate would only be for a 100 days which from January 20th is approximately May 1. Now the discussion has moved to mask will be needed even after the majority of the population is vaccinated. The goal post is being moved and given there will be small pockets of Covid19 around for a long time, possibly forever like the common cold, the Federal mandate could be around for a year or two until as Mr. Leff stated until the president declares total victory over Covid19. Given the extreme cautious nature of Biden I can see him refusing to look at cost/reward ratio and just leaving the mandate in place for a long time.

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