A tiny but vocal minority of readers have asked why I haven’t written about the John Kerry mask incident from this week. When I say “tiny” and “vocal” that’s exactly what I mean — it’s like three people, but they’ve left a handful of comments each. Ultimately I’m happy to report on this and share my take, even if my take is “I’m not sure.”
John Kerry’s maskless airplane picture
77-year-old John Kerry, who is the United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, has gotten some flak for an incident that occurred on an American Airlines flight from Boston to Washington on Wednesday.
In a picture that’s being circulated widely online, Kerry is seen reading a book with his mask dangling from one ear.
Both the federal mask mandate and American Airlines’ policy require passengers to always have masks on when on planes, except when briefly removing them in order to eat or drink.
Kerry has called this story “malarkey,” stating that if he dropped the mask to one ear on a flight, it was momentary, adding that he wears masks because it saves lives, and because it’s what science tells us to do.
Feels like there’s some St. Patrick’s day “malarkey” afoot on Twitter. Let’s be clear: If I dropped my mask to one ear on a flight, it was momentary. I wear my mask because it saves lives and stops the spread. It’s what the science tells us to do.
— Special Presidential Envoy John Kerry (@ClimateEnvoy) March 17, 2021
I do find his response to be strange, as he says “if I dropped my mask.” There’s a picture of him with the mask dropped, so if you ask me, that’s not the way to respond to this incident.
Meanwhile American Airlines has investigated the incident, stating that it has reminded Kerry of its mask policy, and also stating that no crew member observed Kerry without a mask, and there were also no complaints from other passengers about mask compliance issues with him.
Analyzing the picture of Kerry maskless
All we have here is a single picture, so let’s try to objectively analyze that:
- It looks to me like Kerry’s glasses may be fogged, or perhaps just really dirty
- If they’re fogged (and I’m not sure that’s the case — the photo quality isn’t great), that suggests to me that the mask was just removed a moment earlier
- If that’s the case, was he momentarily removing the mask for a reason, or was he just having issues with the glasses fogging up, and decided that he wouldn’t wear his mask while reading?
- He does seem to be pretty focused on his book, which raises the question of whether he was reading for an extended period of time without a mask
- There is a bottle of water in the picture, though it appears to belong to the passenger in the aisle seat; that being said, we don’t know if Kerry had a bottle of water right next to him on his seat that he drank out of, or what
- I haven’t seen any claims from passengers about what happened beyond what’s seen in the picture — in other words, I haven’t heard anyone suggest he left the mask off for an extended period of time, that he refused to put it on when asked, etc.
My take on this story
If Kerry actually had his mask dangling that way for an extended period of time then he was absolutely in the wrong, and should be called out for it. A few thoughts, though:
- Airlines generally ban people over mask compliance issues when an employee asks them to put their mask on and they refuse, so you don’t typically get banned from an airline without an employee intervening; American Airlines has confirmed that no employee saw Kerry without a mask
- I would assume Kerry is vaccinated and therefore posed minimal risk to others (based on initial studies suggesting that asymptomatic spread from the vaccinated is rare), but ultimately that shouldn’t matter — the mandate applies to everyone, even those who are vaccinated
- We just ultimately don’t know very much — we have a single picture, and there are no eyewitness statements I’ve seen claiming anything
To address the comments that I got along these lines:
“No article about John Kerry not wearing a mask but you’re happy to blast Ted Cruz for the same thing?”
So, yeah, no:
- You must be mixing me up with someone else, because I never wrote about Ted Cruz not wearing a mask (that did happen, I just chose not to write about it, because I didn’t think it was much of a story); the only time I’ve written about Cruz in the past year was in relation to a United Airlines data leak when his reservations to Cancun were exposed
- The only other time I’ve covered politicians on planes in regards to coronavirus was when several congresspeople flew Delta after having been in direct contact with Trump when he had coronavirus, in violation of Delta’s policy that you can’t fly if you’ve knowingly been in contact with someone who tested positive
A single still picture of someone not wearing a mask on a plane isn’t a story, in and of itself, in my opinion. And that’s how I feel about this situation — we don’t have enough information one way or another, regardless of political affiliation.
I was on a flight a while back and the ear loop on my mask snapped. I held the mask to my mouth while getting out a replacement mask, but of course there was a brief period where my mouth wasn’t covered, and I wasn’t eating or drinking. There could just as easily be a picture of me like that (not that anyone would care enough to take it, but…).
There’s a picture of John Kerry with a mask dangling from an ear on an American Airlines flight this week. That’s all we know — there’s only one picture, I haven’t heard any passengers claiming that he had the mask off for an extended period of time, and the crew claims they didn’t see this and didn’t get any complaints for other passengers.
Without more information this is a non-story, in my opinion, but in my quest to be fair and balanced, there you go. It’s certainly the less interesting airplane story of the week that involves an ear…
What’s your take on this mask incident?