The federal transportation mask mandate will last longer than it should – once there’s enough vaccine for everyone who wants one the rule should be lifted. (Kids cannot currently get a vaccine but young children are at lower risk than vaccinated adults.)
Bureaucracies tend to be very conservative. Vaccines were delayed perhaps 6 months by a refusal to use human challenge trials. We haven’t approved the AstraZeneca vaccine in the U.S. despite its approval in at least 70 countries, yet we continue stockpiling millions of doses rather than making those available to the world where needed. We still take off our shoes and have to toss bottled water as we go through airport security checkpoints.
Lucky at One Mile at a Time offers, “I can’t help but wonder if [mask-wearing rules] will just be another policy that the airline industry keeps in place forever.”
I don’t think so. Politicians will want to claim credit for victory over the pandemic. And once the Secretary of HHS declares this, the way the CDC’s mask rule is written that triggers a sunset. Let’s look at the actual rule’s language for how long it lasts,
This Order shall…remain in effect unless modified or rescinded based on specific public health or other considerations, or until the Secretary of Health and Human Services rescinds the determination under section 319 of the Public Heatlh Services Act (42 U.S.C 247d) that a public health emergency exists.
Just like everything is infrastructure now, everything is a public health emergency – the CDC Director calls racism a public health threat and President Biden says guns are a public health threat.
Nonetheless this rule is specific to the declared emergency by HHS. President Biden declaring victory in the pandemic should mean an end to the declaration of a health emergency by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Moreover the federal mask rule may not even be legal and at the point where the pandemic has passed, if the rule persists, challenges are more likely to be successful (judges may be more willing to rule against the mandate on the legal merits when they don’t risk being blamed for spread of the virus).
So while masks should no longer be required for U.S. domestic travel this summer, they will be. Yet masks aren’t permanent either. Thankfully some non-U.S. airlines are exempting business class passengers from wearing masks while they sleep.
And once government rules no longer require masks, that will be a signal to airlines to lift their own policies as well. Mask rules were put in place voluntarily by airlines to give customers confidence booking. Even if a given passenger didn’t want to wear a mask, most people were more comfortable when everyone else around them had one. Post-pandemic, airlines who lift mask mandates will be favored by consumers.