When Will We Be Able To Fly Again Without Wearing Masks?

The federal transportation mask mandate will last longer than it shouldonce 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This Order shall…remain in effect unless modified or rescinded based on specific public health or other considerations, or until the Secretary of Health and Human Services rescinds the determination under section 319 of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.

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. When politicians latch onto power they Never give it up. At first it was 2 weeks to flatten the curve. Now it will he 12 years to flatten the curve with no end in sight.

  2. In some ways, a child is like a bat, mongoose, or rat…..reservoir for Coronavirus. They will spread it and kill others, particularly if the virus mutates beyond the reach of current vaccines. However, with some kids getting vaccinated this will help.

    (In the same line of thought, unvaccinated people who refuse the shot are like bats, snakes and rabid dogs..haha)

    I will wear masks on flights forever. The question is really if I will wear a tight N95 masks or a minimally protective surgical mask or a joke cloth mask.

  3. How about today? Texas is doing just fine. The gloom and doom over opening sporting venues without masks has proven to be more unfounded hysteria. The need for high grade disinfectant was anothe bunch of useless scare tactics. Get your vaccine or don’t. Wear a mask if you want. Let’s get back to life.

  4. @Gene – We’ve had no mask mandate for over a month on Texas, including spring break. We are doing fine, thanks.

  5. @gene you have to move on from this “two weeks” thing already, it’s been “two weeks” for over a year and most people have had enough of that joke.

  6. It’ll be interesting for sure. Biden gets political points for “handling COVID well” so does he claim victory relatively early because he’s done such a good job, does he claim victory relatively late so that it’s a more complete claim and he keep masks longer for public health benefits, or does he do both, claiming victory early publicly, but having HHS keep the “emergency” declaration in place until fairly late?

    I honestly don’t know which path will be taken.

  7. The headline should be “When Will We Be Able To Fly Again Without Risking Catching Covid?”

    What *is* it about wearing masks, folks? Even pre-Covid, I carried (and sometimes wore) a mask on flights….for times when that person in the next row is sneezing and coughing his/her head off? Who wants to fly, forced to be in close proximity to dozens of strangers, and catch whatever flu/cold/etc. they’re carrying?

    Sometimes I think Merica is hopeless. Loving all those personal “freedoms” while ignoring what’s really going on.

  8. @Gary, you are one rare bird. Pulling out challenge studies like you actually know what you are talking about. Lol, points for staying on message and not letting actual knowledge get in the way. To anyone considering Gary’s words as credible health advice, run away. Get your credit card offers here and health advice elsewhere.

  9. Texas is doing fine. Except in Austin where they have a dictator for a mayor, restaurants have been full since all mandates were lifted. Most are not wearing mask, people are traveling and socializing and have been for a month. Case numbers dropping every day. The dire warning from Biden and Fauci that it would cause a surge of new cases was false and just another example of wanting to continue this experiment in social control. Fauci loves his moment in the lime light and does not want it to end. I had meetings in Austin this past week and even people there are disobeying the local mandate and going mask less.
    The one place Biden and Fauci can keep imposing their will is on airplanes because of the strong presence of law enforcement from the TSA check to the ability of air crews to have police escort passengers off of a plane. I think it will be around for months longer than necessary if for no other reason than for virtue signaling. Look at Biden and his cabinet, even when he is at a very safe distance (science based) from others, he is still wearing his mask looking like some kind of doofus. I will resume flying when the mandate is lifted.

  10. Covid cases are increasing across the US. Some states like Michighan are getting overwhelmed. Case counts are going up in Florida. Maybe Texas thinks they are special but if they don’t get enough people vaccinated then there is a good chance they will pay a price for this behavior in the future just like some of these states currently are now and how countries in europe have been previously.

  11. Why should the federal mask mandate be lifted as soon as everyone who wants a vaccine has access to a vaccine? Do epidemiologists support this position or did you pull it out of the air? The vaccines are not 100% effective, including the jury still being out on the “long COVID” risk after vaccination. Therefore, part of my protection comes from others having been vaccinated and people still wearing masks. As there is no requirement for people to be vaccinated to fly, it is reasonable to keep the mask mandate in place until the virus becomes much more rare in the United States than it will be by late April or May.

    Like David in his comment, I also ask what is the big deal about wearing masks. I will happily wear mine on flights and I really can’t understand why it should be such a big deal to anyone. The politicization of mask wearing in this country is ridiculous.

  12. @Mike, a simple googling shows that for the past 30 days, the 7 day average for Texas from March 11-April 4 has been trending downward (4710 on March 11 and 2943 on April 4), but has been rising steadily since April 4th. 7-day average as of today is 3337. We will beat Covid despite your paranoid beliefs about the medical community and our leaders somehow doing this for vanity and/or to impose “cOnTrOl” over the public. Luckily most Americans are fine with wearing a simple mask to protect the other Americans who are acting like petulant children, crossing their arms and shouting “NO!” when adults ask them to do something inconvenient that is for their own safety and the safety of others around them.

  13. @Justine – “Why should the federal mask mandate be lifted as soon as everyone who wants a vaccine has access to a vaccine? ” read the linked argument – vaccinated folks are largely protected, unvaccinated folks are that way by choice, kids who can’t yet get vaccinated aren’t at a level or risk greater than in other activities they voluntarily pursue.

  14. @Gary, do you even know what a challenge study actually is? Zero chance one could be run based on severity of potential symptoms associated with COVID. Perhaps you mean an immunogenicity study, which was not oractical given there was almost zero information on linkage of antibody expression, protection from infection or severity of disease. So my issue is your love of throwing around concepts that you don’t really understand and that readers may use to make important health decisions. Sounds bites are fine until people get hurt.

  15. @Matt – You can have your own opinions, but not your own facts. We Texans have less deaths, hospitalizations, and cases than last week: https://apps.texastribune.org/features/2020/texas-coronavirus-cases-map/

    I for one have been flying since last May regularly, have been wearing a mask, and am pretty tired of it. I’m vaxxed, been tested virtually once a week for the last year, haven’t gotten sick, nor have my kids who have been in school since September (real school, not zoom school). It’s about time to end the virus theater, be reasonably intelligent about not doing stupid stuff, and get on with our lives.

  16. @miamiorbust – wrong wrong wrong. Of course exposing someone to the virus would have been risky. Guess what? Over 500,000 Americans have died and a good percentage of those could have been saved by volunteers. Pay them if you must. By the way the UK is doing challenge studies so don’t tell.me they can’t exist.

  17. Let’s face it the mask law will NEVER be revoked as far as any form of public transportation in the US is concerned. There are way too many anti-vaxxers out there.

  18. @1KBrad. The article you reference is not the opinion of NIH. Further, it does not appear that the article been peer reviewed. NIH does not say MASKS JUST DON”T WORK. NIH is simply providing a means for the publication of papers. If the author’s conclusions are worth anything, we will all hear about it. At this time I would not place much value on this single author’s paper. Rather, I’d take a wait and see approach.

  19. @1KBrad
    The author of the article you quoted from the NIH is a physical therapist, not a medical doctor or scientific specialist. If I’ve got an aching back, perhaps he can help. But I’ll leave the medical determination to those who studied medicine for 6+ years.
    I know for sure that I’ll never, ever, get on a plane during flu season without a mask on. All of this has been a real eye opener.
    Oh, and good luck Texas. I’m sure you can all do whatever you want and it will never come back to bite you.

  20. I will definitely prefer flying on airlines with mask mandates, especially in the winter. What a revelation mask wearing is, now I understand why you see Japanese do it all the time!

  21. Gary – Thanks very much for your reply. I had already read your linked argument before commenting, so it’s not an adequate response to my points. Unless, that is, your argument is that it’s more important for people to choose not to wear masks than it is to protect vaccinated people to the extent that vaccination does not confer 100% protection and to protect children. Is that what you’re saying? If so, we profoundly disagree. There is little real downside or inconvenience to wearing a mask, so it’s a sensible measure to keep in place while the virus is still circulating at material levels in the United States. There is also a strong public health case for protecting people from their own stupidity (i.e., refusing to be vaccinated for no good reason), rather than shrugging our shoulders and leaving them to risk illness and death.

    You didn’t answer my question about whether epidemiologists support your position. Vaccine availability is not Dr Fauci’s litmus test for stopping the wearing of masks. Speaking about masks generally (not specifically on planes), he said on Good Morning America on March 27, 2021: “Removing the mask is really going to depend on what the level of infection in the community is. If the vaccine rollout goes well and a lot less people on a daily basis get infected, then the likelihood of being able to pull back on mask wearing – I don’t want to go there and say it will be at this date because we don’t know – right now, the one thing I do know is that we have between 50- and 60,000 new infections a day. When you’re at that level, you’ve still got to wear a mask.” https://abc7ny.com/amp/covid-face-mask-fauci-coronavirus-vaccine-cdc-guidelines-for-vaccinated-individuals/10452609/

  22. @Justine – we do not need to mandate masks to protect vaccinated people, especially at the point where there’s enough vaccine for everyone who wants one to get one (since per the CDC it is highly unlikely for vaccinated people to spread the virus). 100% protection is a silly standard since there wasn’t 100% protection against risk prior to the pandemic and mask mandate.

  23. @Justine and others… the arguments you make in favor of the *prudence* of mask-wearing is well-meaning, reasonable and compelling. But I still think it falls quite short of justifying a federal mandate.

    As a country, we’ve completely lost the plot when we need to impose draconian conduct-regulating requirements (backed by penalty and force of law) substantially on the basis of “it’s the right thing to do.”

  24. ” 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.”

    SHOULD. Really should. But he also said it was “patriotic” to wear a mask when vaccinated around another vaccinated person which goes against the CDC guidelines.

    I am DUMBFOUNDED by the Democrats right now. And I have been a Democrat for 25 years. If they don’t start believing in science I will never trust them again.

    It is embarrassing how bad and pessimistic the left is about Covid. My brother is a doctor, my mom is a doctor, and my sister is a nurse. I had Covid in April 2020 that I got from mask wearing construction workers in my building. And I was wearing a mask too.

    These 100% safe people are insane. Seriously! Do you drive a car? Do you eat food other people prepare? Does you kid get into a pool or have a dresser? RISK RISK RISK RISK RISK. Better hide!

  25. Some of these comments are just asinine! I’m from Texas and fly approximately 20 days a month, (all through the scary pandemic) and can tell you that most of us who fly are just plain sick and tired of the silliness that we hear from the flight attendants about these nonsensical masks! Enough of the control already!!
    Give us back our alcohol if you want us to shut up and sit nicely on your communist flight at least.
    Where are the science followers?
    Show me valid numbers on comparison studies of mask wearers vs non-mask wearers transmission rates??? Please!
    Tell us to keep our masks on and to socially distance while de-planning but then sit us three in a row!!! You’re completely moronic!

  26. Any airline that requires masks after the pandemic is over will deserve to go out of business. My family will refuse to travel on any airline that does this. Competing airlines will see an opening, and they’ll do away with masks, pulling customers from the paranoid masking ones.
    People need to get an effen grip. We did 100% fine flying without masks for 70 years in this country, and we don’t need to suddenly start dressing like Ebola Doctors due to a temporary pandemic.

  27. After everything this country has gone through over the past year and some odd months, of course people are going to be angry about being required to hide their faces behind some stupid piece of cloth. Traveling is stressful enough as it is. They don’t need to make it worse by continuing to require that we walk around looking like freaks. Many states across the country have already started ditching their mask mandates. The TSA should do the same. If they want to know whose vaccinated and who isn’t, all they have to do is require that people show their vaccination cards when entering the airport. For those who don’t have one, that means they aren’t vaccinated. Then and only then can you require that they be muzzled like a wild animal. But for those of us who do have a card, let us be.

  28. Both New York and California have lifted their mask mandates. It’s time the TSA back off and lift theres too. They need to stop controlling the public’s lives.

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