Will President Biden Make The Air Travel Mask Mandate Permanent?

By mid- to late-July airline CEOs were calling for an end to the federal transportation mask mandate. Since vaccines were widely available, people could protect themselves through vaccination or choose not to – but there was no longer a great reason to require people to protect the unvaccinated from their own poor choices.

By the end of July, though, I predicted that the mask mandate would be extended past September 13. The CDC was again recommending indoor masks for those who have been vaccinated, and interstate transportation is the area where the federal government has the strongest regulatory power (although their legal authority under 42 USC 264(a) to require masks is questionable).

Vaccination and improved treatments for Covid-19 (data out last week on fluvoxamine looks promising while ivermectin showed “no significant effect”) should make Covid-19 manageable as it becomes endemic.

However laying out what an endemic Covid-19 future looks like, President Biden’s former White House Sr Advisor for COVID Response suggests that a federal transportation mandate should become permanent:

My own bet is that though this idea may represent mainstream thinking within certain policy circles, it won’t be something that the Biden administration adopts, for the same reason he’s called on OPEC for more oil production despite such a move running contrary to his own environmental policy goals. Biden wants to declare victory over the pandemic. And he doesn’t want the political downsides to making such a requirement permanent.

This is ultimately a political decision and not a scientific one. The U.S. mask mandate doesn’t require quality masks that might meaningfully affect virus transmission, the way that Lufthansa and Finnair now do. Lifting the mandate looks ‘weak on coronovirus’ while cases are still elevated (even if they’re falling by September 13). Imposing the mandate as the 2022 midterms approach creates a narrative over a choice of ‘what kind of normal’ the future looks like and turns it into an electoral issue.

That’s why I’ve laid down a marker that the mask mandate certainly gets lifted before the 2022 mid-term elections. Currently betting markets have control over the Senate a 50-50 toss-up, with the House falling to Republican control.

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. […] A status quo bias in policy, it’s hard to implement changes to policy than to leave them in place. Not wanting to be blamed when bad things happen following a change in policy, which also makes it harder to blame a predecessor. Some members of the Biden administration still wanting to follow a ‘zero Covid’ strategy even though the virus has in all likelihood become endemic and there’s no possibility that a comprehensive set of policies could be enacted which would follow such a prescription even if it were chosen for the U.S. Some advisors even want the air travel mask mandate to be permanent. […]

Comments

  1. That would suck. I would rather have everyone vaxxed. No shot, no exceptions. Time to stop coddling these killers of other people. Their rights end where my health begins.
    Period full stop!

  2. Lufthansa and Finnair have
    more recently required what SAS had already been requiring on some of my SAS flights when it comes to what constitutes an acceptable mask.

  3. Jorge, is your health impacted? Are you in a high risk group? If so, perhaps you should stay home and not fly. If you are a child, as I recall the flu is much more deadly than COVID.

    You write, ” Their rights end where my health begins.” I believe my health is impacted by the fumes of your flying. By your logic then, your rights to fly should end.

    It comes down to the extent and benefit. If there exists at some time a pandemic that puts healthy people at high risk, like we all become the walking dead, then the govn should have the right to impose whatever requirements are necessary upon this.

  4. @Jorge – Cool. Now do that with abortion. Whatever it takes to save the life of a baby. No coddling killers. Thanks!

  5. “Their rights end where my health begins.”

    Arguably one of the most ignorant statements I read on a regular basis. It makes one wonder if these people are able to dress themselves in the morning.

  6. Honestly this would be awesome. Get all those non-compliant nutjobs that want to make every simple thing into philosophical question about individual rights off commercial carriers for good. How much you wanna bet in the long run, air travel would be a more calm, safer, enjoyable and not to mention healthier experience, without these nuts.

  7. The airlines already advertise that due to cabin airflow that you are very safe in the aircraft from airborne aerosols. Then lose the mask, and leave the virtue signaling to others

  8. Reports from NZ that there was an infection due to a 4 second period in which two doors were opened across the hall from one another

    Planes have good circulation, but its not magic. Only reason we dont have a long list of cases is because we dont do contact tracing.

  9. Well let’s see – He’s a colossal failure on immigration, the economy, the pandemic, and now Afghanistan, then why not this too?

    When in doubt, just assume that he’ll do something stupid. He was at best dimwitted even at his intellectual peak. Now imagine an already stupid man in the grip of dementia making decisions.

    Wait, no need to imagine, since that is what we are seeing playing out in spectacular fashion every day.

    So yeah, I’m sure he would make the mask ban permanent, and in typical Joe Biden fashion, it wouldn’t help at all.

  10. Well he can’t make it “permanent” in the normal meaning of the word, since I predict he will not be President forever. I think if and when the numbers go back down again substantially, the pressure will mount to remove these lifestyle restrictions. We will not get rid of COVID entirely, but with vaccination and coming treatments we can get into a manageable state like with many other diseases that do not run and ruin our lives.

  11. It is also worth noting that the airlines that wanted mask mandates now are desperate for them to go away. Southwest’s flight attendants have penned a letter to their CEO asking for help, including dealing with unruly passengers with the vast majority of cases due to mask wearing.

    With control of even one chamber of Congress likely to result in a plethora of hearings that will bring facts to light which the public has not seen, the Biden Administration and Fauci would do well to put something behind them as a success. Impeachments at all levels of government are likely if both chambers change hands. Covid would be a real good thing to say they did right.

    With cases plateauing and deaths nowhere near what they were at the peak of the pandemic, it is time to move on. The vast majority of hospitalized people are unvaccinated and heavily those that illegally entered the US esp. in Texas. If it takes a vaccine mandate to board a plane, so be it. Continuing to pester compliant Americans about covid will only lead to more political ill-will.

  12. Gee Joe, let’s blame him for the actions of the prior administration regarding Afghanistan. Typical…At least Biden takes responsibility for his actions, even if carrying out the deed of tRump, unlike tRump who shifted blame his entire 4 years.

  13. Wow Elliott, you clearly haven’t read a single piece of news and have no idea what’s happening. You’re about as bright as Biden himself. As Trump would say, “Sad!”

  14. Masks aren’t illegal. People can wear them if they want. N95 masks are readily available so you can even get a really good one that is completely sealed. Hospital workers wear these all day. Go get a booster vaccine. If you are so worried about yourself, then take the necessary precautions or don’t fly. Your fear of the world should not dictate the rules for everyone else.

  15. SlowJoe and the Ho should deal with Afghanistan, gas prices, growing inflation and the border issues

    Instead let’s focus on masks and fear mongering. There is a huge subset of the population that just wrings their hands petrified to return to normal

    Follow the money. Those pushing fear are making money off it

  16. The Democrat Party will be wiped out if Biden does not change course with his deranged behavior well before the midterm elections.

  17. “Since vaccines were widely available, people could protect themselves through vaccination or choose not to – but there was no longer a great reason to require people to protect the unvaccinated from their own poor choices.” Except those children who don’t have a vaccine they can take or the immune compromised for who the vaccine does not work, oh let’s not forget all the vaccinated people on the plane who can still get infected and pass the virus around during their travels and maybe even have the joy of testing positive in a foreign country and being forced to quarantine at great expense all because some people don’t want to wear a mask. Not to mention those unvaccinated people who get infected will go on to infect others and may end up in the hospital taking away hospital beds from others in need. Your logic for why people should not wear masks on planes is lacking to say the least.

  18. I’m with @Joey. Keep the spreadnecks off commercial flights. The simple answer to getting rid of mask mandates is that anyone who wants to fly needs to have proof of vaccination. That doesn’t impinge on the freedom of the foil hat crowd, who can drive from Texas to Florida to protect that “freedom”, and keeps people who have done the right thing safe.

  19. There’s no economic pressure to drop it. Planes are full. Even when they weren’t, the airlines were able to feed at the public trough. Until we get some sensible, adult leadership back in the White House I think “permanent ” is entirely possible.

    Regarding vaccination, the fact that so many are willing to let our government mandate what we put in our body is chilling. What are you going to allow them to do next? Some day there will be another Republican in the White House. Are you going to dutifully follow what they say because if not, I’d suggest this is more about politics than science. The anger in your posts certainly seems to indicate it is.

  20. @James N
    For a guy who hides behind his front door, no one is interested on whether you can dress yourself or not!

  21. @Joe
    Sorry, to tell you this but Chump never did anything right except lying, fawning over his benefactors, spreading conspiracy theories, overcharging the Secret Service. getting impeached twice, inciting a riot, using religion as a crutch, exhibiting friendship with his two best friends, Kim and Putin, using his Scientific genius to denounce Scientists, firing competent government employees who didn’t agree with him, ruining the Iran nuclear deal, getting rid of the Pandemic Commission to spite Obama, not caring a hoot about people dying in Covid wards, siding with alt-right militia groups (their good people too), stand ready Proud Boys, QANON they like me too, nepotism, such geniuses in his family. No matter tax payer money paid their salaries. Chump lied about him paying their salaries. There’s a lot more but let’s keep whining about the stolen election. See you in Phoenix for his RE-INAUGURATION!!!!!!’ Joe, don’t you read the news, Chump is the greatest Prez in history!!!!!!

  22. To “Joey” and “Jorge”. Sounds like you both should not be flying due to you’re irrational fears. You’re comments about your health care being affected by others make ne think you would be better off in isolation somewhere else. Stop imposing your will and beliefs on others it makes you both look foolish. As a fully vaccinated individual I have no business imposing my own personal beliefs on others all in the name of safety. So tired of this Nanny State thinking. Land of the free is not so much anymore.

  23. He is a bureaucrat. Bureaucrat’s believe their sole purpose in life is to make you spend your money on things you don’t want and to write regulations to protect against even the smallest of risk regardless of benefit or economic cost. Can’t wait to get rid of this president and his cadre of useless bureaucrats.

  24. “Rog” not even close. You will be regretting the day you voted for the senile one very soon if not already. Trump had his faults but at least he knew what was going on.

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