Will Masks Be The Next Thing People Get In Onboard Fights Over, With Flights Diverting?

Right now people are fighting on board over lack of social distancing, although sometimes they’re just freaking out on social media about it. An airplane is a big metal tube that you’re going to be trapped in for several hours. If you want an empty seat next to you it’s been possible to buy one for a long time. Airlines are in the business of selling travel, and if that concerns you then you probably shouldn’t fly.

I’m afraid that the next flash point of people being awful to each other in the air is going to be requirements to wear masks. JetBlue was first out of the gate with this but others quickly followed. In fact if you don’t want to wear a mask inflight, the largest airline I can find in the U.S. not requiring them is Allegiant.

Of course some passengers aren’t going to wear them. They might claim a medical condition and this assertion can’t be questioned.

I really hope people wear masks. You can share your thoughts on their effectiveness in the comments if you want, but that’s totally beside the point. The requirement makes the people around you more comfortable and it is disrespectful of your fellow passengers not to wear one regardless of the rule.

People are getting pretty political over mask wearing, arguing that it somehow impinges on their freedom when a private company (not the government!) mandates it? They want to boycott Costco or something, though I don’t see what right there is to potentially asymptomatically spread a virus.

Given that masks have become a flash point in a debate over the correct political response to a global pandemic, feelings about masks are deeply held. So some people won’t do it on what they see as principle, and if they’re told to put one on (Allegiant is offering them free, and Allegiant doesn’t offer anything for free) they’ll object in the strongest possible terms. So there’s lots of potential for conflicts in the air, and even diversions over this i’m afraid.

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 really hope people wear masks. You can share your thoughts on their effectiveness in the comments if you want, but that’s totally beside the point. The requirement makes the people around you more comfortable and it is disrespectful of your fellow passengers not to wear one regardless of the rule.”

    Are you really saying we should alter our behavior and suffer our own inconvenience because it makes others more comfortable? No inalienable rights anymore….. just majority rules? You have lost your freaking mind…..

  2. @Paulz If you don’t like the airline’s rules, don’t buy a ticket on that airline. You are a free person. You can fly or not fly. THAT is your inalienable right.

  3. @Paulz
    No one’s forcing you to get on a plane. You don’t have an inalienable right to travel on a private airline.

  4. I wonder if @Paulz is one of those folks who sees nothing wrong with taking his shoes and socks off and putting his bare feet up on the bulkhead because he finds it convenient. I wonder if he rages against every retail establishment that has long required all customers wear a shirt and shoes for entry.

    I also wonder if he has yet to experience a family member or close friend/business associate becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.

  5. I have doubts about the efficacy of masks, particularly the home-made ones being churned out all over. But I’d wear one on a plane, if only to provide comfort to those who are anxious about things. It’s not a lot to ask/ give.
    But I have no compelling reason to fly, so won’t be anytime soon.

  6. As I said on FlyerTalk.com, the problems had from “flying while ‘brown’/‘Muslim’” on US carriers provide a glimpse into what will happen with travel picking up in the hyper-divisive era of “this pandemic is a hoax/flu” and “this pandemic is dangerous as hell, so stay the hell away from me”. But this time, the conflicts may be way more frequent and frequently disruptive since the scale and scope of targets covers far more passengers on the common carrier planes nearest to us.

  7. “Wear a frickin’ mask already”

    Please people, apply some critical thought and don’t simply “wear a frickin mask already”.

  8. funny my wife and I had that exact conversation this weekend, her concern is that everyone be compelled to wear a mask other wise she is not getting on a plane anytime soon. Tired of being locked down we are looking to Hawaii as soon as it opens. What about long haul international how well will the airlines administer that rule you correct it very well can be the next fight in flight

  9. @James N – at this point, you apparently are just a sad little troll sitting in your parents’ basement, ranting at the world.

    Tell us now – who is YOUR leader or source of news you DO trust?

  10. Paulz,

    I sure hope you are right. Last flight I was on was a couple of years ago, I was minding my business, sitting naked in my seat as is my inalienable right- like God made Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, right? Yet some flight attendant had the nerve to alter my behavior and suffer the inconvenience of wearing clothes. I mean, what’s with that!

  11. @Gary, this would be a really helpful time to re-post that Twitter photo from yesterday on the fully-packed United flight where there were 25 doctors onboard. If those 25 doctors are all wearing gloves and masks (some I noticed were double-masked) and we readers were asked to choose sides: the education and experience level of those doctors vs. some numbnut like @Paulz….well, I think I might just side with the doctors.

    My dad is one of those numbnuts. At age 82 he thinks he knows it all. He barely graduated high school, has has no formal scientific training whatsoever, and couldn’t tell you the difference between a Tylenol and a Rohypnol, but hey, he’s a very stable genius and we should all just take his word for it.

  12. @Gary – I find your view on this to be hypocritical.

    For years, I have read your thoughts and taunts regarding TSA and airport security. I agree that it is largely security theater, designed to make the public FEEL better about flying while actually doing little to nothing about actually making airports and flying safer.

    Most commercially available and homemade face masks are not that effective, certainly far less so than the N95 masks, and the public is urged not to use the N95 mask so that supplies can be made available to front line healthcare workers.

    So, you advocate people wearing face masks to make fellow passengers FEEL more comfortable about flying even though the masks will have little if any health benefit.

  13. @Paulz: inalienable right? Surely you jest.

    Everyone has people who tell them what to do during their lives — their parents, when young; teachers; employers; neighbors; business people; government; the mysterious “them” (perhaps, “the voices”). Everyone has the choice to follow the direction or not. There are positive and negative consequences that follow each decision either for or against. Each person evaluates the personal risks and rewards for each decision. Maturity consists of better critical thinking skills in making these choices and accepting the consequences — both good and bad— that flow from the decision.

    “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

  14. @Ron – I argue that people should do it voluntarily, and that is different than being groped by the government. The groping has next to zero effectiveness and is deployed against a nearly non-existent threat while non-respirator masks do provide some benefit in reducing spread of a virus that’s an actual threat.

  15. @Ron,

    Agree. Super surprised Gary is so anti security theater when it’s dealing with TSA—the water bottles! Protect us from the water bottles!—but seems super comfortable when it’s dealing with a mask made out of a sock? I guess he’s not such a libertarian after all.

    Gimme a break. Glad to let this *^%#show ride itself out before getting back in a plane.

  16. @Sweet Pea – I believe it is respectful to others, and by the way I also agree with airlines having the right to require passengers to wear pants…

  17. @gary So masks are the same as pants? I don’t understand the logic.

    Masks are supposedly there for a medical reason (with an effectiveness that varies depending on source). People say the TSA is for our safety just as you’re saying masks are there for our safety. Neither is really that great at its mission but both make the participant *feel* good. But I guess feelings are all that matter now. Please tell me more about how a mask made from a sock will save me . . .

    Will there be mask police on the plane to make sure it stays on properly, isn’t removed during sleep, covers the nose at all times? Will mask supervisors jump up and insist no one eat or drink during transcon flights? Will undercover mask supervisors sit in rows between flyers to make sure the sock doesn’t have a hole in it?

    Why don’t airlines focus on improving the one thing we all know they suck at: cleaning and sanitizing the seats, armrests, and tray tables. That would go much farther toward good health and hygiene than anything made at home.

    Also: glad you wear pants.

  18. I’ve always wondered: if masks are not effective at stopping the entry or expelling of the droplets linked to the CV, then why do medical personnel so desperately need them? Come on folks. Wear the masks. Unless, of course you are anywhere near the leader of the free world.

  19. Enforcing people to wear masks onboard is not as simple as you think. Yes, by now, many carriers have announced it’s policy when boarding the airplane and while in flight… yet, on a 10+ hr flight, some will not leave it on all the time, as they should… it’s just as the seatbelt sign… you are required to advise, but no one listens…. believe me, I know for experience. In the end, people will do that they want…

  20. I agree that it does come down to selfishness and a tendency to think more about how actions impact oneself than others around you. If it were just a matter of the mask-less being more at risk for sickness, then this would be a personal decision I wouldn’t care about. The issue is that given asymptomatic infections, the mask-less risk infecting those around them; until people see this as more about protecting others than themselves, we will continue to see this friction. Sadly, there is something about being placed in an enclosed metal tube that makes people even less likely to think about their impact on others.

  21. @Ron: “So, you advocate people wearing face masks to make fellow passengers FEEL more comfortable about flying even though the masks will have little if any health benefit.”

    I believe that the CDC has said that any mask (even a homemade cloth one) is better than no mask at all, so I’m not sure that this is as much about people’s feelings as you are wanting to portray it as.

  22. “Asymptomatic” is far too big a word – quite obviously.

    Try this: If you got the virus you may not know you got the virus. If you got the virus when you breath you breath out the virus. If you wear any kind of covering over your mouth and nose a whole bunch of what you breath out will be caught or slowed down by the covering. By catching or slowing down what you are breathing out people around you will have a way less chance of getting the virus from you.

    Simple enough? Wear a mask.

  23. @SweetPea, you’re right when you say “Why don’t airlines focus on improving the one thing we all know they suck at: cleaning and sanitizing the seats, armrests, and tray tables. That would go much farther toward good health and hygiene than anything made at home.” I’ll take it farther, and say that if I saw more than 60% of people in airport bathrooms wash their hands, that would also go significantly farther than any of this “security theater” that makes people feel better. Between that and coughing/sneezing into an elbow, we could actually make a difference on the spread of disease.

    Consider this piece from the British Medical Journal on some negative effects masks can create (https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m1435/rr-40).

  24. @George. Actually, I heard a comedian say he has solved the issue of social distancing. He just takes out his thing, and then every avoids him by a large margin. I am sure walking around naked, especially with a trench coat, would have a similar effect.

  25. I’m not wearing a mask for an eight hour transatlantic plus collateral onboard time.

    Other passengers ‘feelings’ are irrelevant.

  26. Is a mask 100 percent foolproof? No
    If everyone wore a mask would it at least reduce the amount of transmissions?
    Absolutely yes.
    What a bummer there are so many people that really don’t care about others.

  27. When you mix SCIENCE with POLITICS, you get POLITICS. In order to perpetuate the political agenda of the current pandemic, there must be a large contingent of asymptomatic virus “carriers.”
    I was around for Woodstock (1969) during that pandemic which was every bit as serious as this one . . . MINUS the POLITICS. We survived it just as we will survive this one, provided the science overrules the politics.

  28. @Fred. I’ll tell you the same I told @Paulz earlier. It goes both ways.
    I am sure you will appreciate breathing your fellow passenger breath….I hope he sneezes all over you. Why would he care about YOUR feelings. You don’t either!

  29. @Liz, how are you so immature? How about everyone just covers their mouth properly when they cough/sneeze and wakes their hands frequently and we eliminate 85% of the problem?! This wishing ill on other people who think or feel differently is exactly why we’re in the situations we are in today. Perhaps consider reasons why someone may not want or be able to wear a mask for that long, or do some research on why it’s self-defeating to wear a mask that long (or at all in some cases).

  30. @ One Trippe

    Would you use science and take a look at the gains in the amount of world wide air travel since 1969 and then using more science calc the world wide infection rate possibilities today as compared to 1969. After all, this is a blog about….air travel……

  31. @Drew. I don’t wish ill to anybody. I was just making a point that being careless about other people feelings may bite you in the back.
    Of course it’s a point you’ll never grasp given how easily you hurt the feelings of your fellow bloggers.
    But you are sooo mature….

  32. Does anyone have any idea how small a viral body is?? Wearing a mask to stop its transmission is just as effective as putting up a chain-link fence to stop mosquitoes… STOP WEARING MASKS!!
    And yes, I DO have medical degree.

  33. Amazing Larry, saying you have a medical degree doesn’t make you right.
    Plenty of experts with much more experience then you disagree.
    Are Masks foolproof? Of course not, but they do in fact help.
    Not in protecting you but in preventing someone from spreading it.
    Do you not even cover your face when you sneeze or do you think that doesn’t do any good and just sneeze in people’s face when you have a cold?

  34. It’s a fact that masks, whether homemade or commercially available, stop particles (most, not all) from escaping. Sure coughing or sneezing into a mask is gross, but the alternative is worse. If you want to die for my so-called “personal freedoms”, no skin off of my teeth. But I have no interest in dying for your misinterpretation of them.

  35. Fauci says cloth masks don’t do anything, and actually make things worse because wearers THINK they are working.

  36. To put that in perspective it was March 8th, a lot was happening. To a certain extent he was right at the time saying that the masks aren’t foolproof. He was wrong to say only healthcare workers should wear them. (Why only healthcare workers, we all want to be protected) What we do know now is they do help and perhaps enough to save 1000’s and 1000’s of cases when air travel picks up.
    The concept of taking a single arguably understandable mistake by Dr. Fauci and throwing him under the bus to take a selfish perspective is sad.
    What’s really sad is that people can’t just acknowledge that if everyone on an airplane wore a mask the spread would be less then if everyone went without a mask.

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