How Long Will We Be Wearing Masks While Flying?

Even within the industry, there are conflicting opinions

How Long Will We Be Wearing Masks While Flying?

On February 10, Skift reported that the CEO of TAP Air Portugal, Christine Ourmières-Widener, had predicted that — even in the midst of several states lifting their respective mandates — the mask requirement on planes wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, Ourmières-Widener expressed her belief that the mask mandate as it pertains to airplanes might be permanent.

“We have put into place so many additional protocols,” she said in an interview. “I am absolutely convinced they will stay forever.”

Less than a week later, on February 15, View From the Wing‘s Gary Leff — an admitted proponent for masks on planes at the onset of the pandemic — buckled down on a prediction of his own, which is that the mask mandate on planes will be lifted before the midterm elections in November.

“Betting markets now give 3-1 odds that the mask mandate will be gone before the election,” Leff wrote. “Prediction markets are frequently more reliable than expert commentary because well-informed observers put real money behind their arguments (it’s their revealed expectations, rather than cheap talk). And Polymarket is the most robust platform (though the Feds don’t like it).”

The caveat about expert commentary is interesting, yet both Ourmières-Widener and Leff are experts in their own right. So why such a stark difference in opinion? Let’s start with the obvious: one of the predictions is based off of what the scientists may inevitably call for, while the other comes down to politics. It is Leff’s belief that the latter will ultimately win out over the former.

As it stands now, the mask mandate on aircrafts (and trains, road vehicles, vessels and other means of transport, including military transport) is set to expire at the end of March. That said, Dr. Anthony Fauci is among those who wish to see the mandate extended.

The debate is hardly a new one. According to the Federal Aviation Association, of the 5,891 unruly passengers reported to the agency last year, 4,290 of them were for failure to wear a mask in the airport or a onboard a flight. To that end, airlines arguably stand to benefit from dropping the mandate — if for no other reason than their employees will apparently be less likely to be assaulted.

But airlines shouldn’t sleep on the population who won’t be as inclined to fly should the mandate be lifted, either (the immunocompromised, the elderly and those who routinely travel with small children, to name a few). Many travelers feel safe doing so because of the protocols, not in spite of them.

So where does that leave us? It’s hard to say for sure. In light of the most recent Omicron outbreak, it would be surprising if — for scientific reasons — the mask requirement on planes wasn’t extended beyond March. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if — for political reasons — it were lifted before the next election, either.

In the end, those in favor of masking will likely continue to wear them, regardless of a mandate. Those vehemently opposed will, of course, not. In many cases, they’re ignoring them already.


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