While I think the mask mandate on planes and at airports has made a lot of sense during the pandemic (and continues to make sense, until things are more under control), I can’t help but wonder when it will be lifted… if at all.
Airline safety policies are often added, rarely reversed
When you look at the pain points of airline travel, it’s interesting the extent to which some policies have been introduced in the name of safety, but have never been undone. There are some changes that absolutely make sense, like reinforced cockpit doors, which are an easy, permanent solution, that don’t inconvenience anyone.
But then look at some of the other policies in the airline industry that are more questionable:
- We’re still not allowed to take liquids of over 100ml through security, out of fear that they might be explosive
- We’re still (for the most part) required to take our shoes off at airport security, because in 2001 there was an attempted “shoe bomber”
- We’re still not allowed to “congregate” near bathrooms, exits, or lavatories, on US-bound flights, out of fear that we might be coordinating some sort of an attack on the plane
- Whenever a pilot uses the bathroom, a cart needs to be set up to block the way
Heck, forget safety for a moment, and just look at airline fuel surcharges. They were added when oil prices spiked, but have never been eliminated, even when oil prices were at an all-time low.
The point is, I can’t think of many policy changes in the airline industry that were added and then later undone.
Masks could be helpful long-term, but at what cost?
Coronavirus has taught me a lot about health and human interaction in general. To some extent the way I interact with humans will probably never be the same. For example:
- I have a hard time imagining going to a social event where there are dozens of people you’re expected to hug and talk to in close proximity
- Having gotten the flu a few years back on a trip to Asia, I have a new appreciation for how this was probably preventable to some extent
- I have a new appreciation for the outdoors, maintaining distance, etc.
As I always say, I’m an introvert, so in some ways coronavirus hasn’t been as tough on me as on others. If I never have to awkwardly hug someone again or have unnecessary small talk with strangers at some sort of a social event, I’d be absolutely delighted.
Anyway, that’s a bit of a tangent. Specific to airlines, at what point could we actually realistically expect an airplane mask mandate to be lifted?
- It seems highly unlikely that coronavirus will ever fully die out, so is it once we’re at the point where annual coronavirus deaths are less than average flu deaths, or at some other point?
- Even if we’re at that point, with the new knowledge we have, isn’t there merit to wearing masks on planes, at least during flu season (we’ve seen some people do this in Asia for years)? There does seem to be some potential upside in terms of saving lives, at least in comparison to liquids and shoe restrictions, no?
- As good as air filtration is on planes, there aren’t any public spaces I can think of where you’re forced to sit so close to a stranger for such a long period of time
To be clear, I hope that masks aren’t required on planes forever. Personally I don’t think the mask mandate will be lifted in the coming months (I’d be shocked if it’s lifted in 2021), though I think it could be within a couple of years. Then again, I can’t help but wonder if this will just be another policy that the airline industry keeps in place forever, as with so many policies that came before this.
At this point wearing masks on airplanes has become the norm, and it’s something travelers have gotten used to. That’s good during the pandemic, though I think we’re all hoping that the mask mandate is eventually lifted.
That being said, I can’t help but wonder if it’s here to stay forever. I’d argue that there’s more upside in terms of saving lives with a mask mandate on planes than with liquids and shoe restrictions, yet those have stuck around for a couple of decades now.
And to be clear, that’s not to say that I think the mask mandate should stick around forever, but rather that it has more relative merit than some of the other policies that have stuck around.
I could see myself voluntarily wearing a mask in the future when flying during flu season, but I don’t think it should be mandated forever.
What do you think — could a mask mandate become a permanent aspect of flying, or at what point do you think it will be lifted?