April 19, 2022

IF YOU’RE headed to the airport today, you can leave your face covering at home.

Yesterday, a Federal judge struck down the Biden Administration’s extension of the TSA-enforced mask mandate for airports, airplanes, and public transit. By late afternoon, the White House basically threw in the towel, announcing that TSA would no longer enforce the rule. Already extended on two prior occasions, the mandate was set to expire in under three weeks. Apparently this wasn’t a fight worth taking on.

Within hours, the country’s airlines began informing passengers and employees that, effective immediately, masks are now optional.

The new policy will affect U.S. domestic flights and airports. Protocols on international flights will vary with the destination country.

Here’s hoping the pre-departure testing requirement for passengers returning to the United States is next to be eliminated.

Regardless of where I fall on the matter, what I fear is that the to-mask-or-not-to-mask question becomes a kind of binary political litmus: if you’re politically on the left, you’ll continue wearing a mask. If you’re a Trumper or politically to the right, you won’t. Ideological affiliations will thus be judged instantly, based on appearance.

This kind of non-thinking is bothersome and very unfair, but this is the nation we’re living in these days — and another of the reasons I’ve come to feel so politically homeless of late.

And that’s about all I wish to say. If readers feel like arguing the good and bad, have at it in the comments section.

It’ll be interesting to see this how this plays out. I imagine the percentage of people sticking with masks will, at first, remain quite high. I was at the Dublin airport a couple of weeks ago, where the policy has been optional for a while, and it was about 50/50. Will you wear a mask still? Why or why not? And talk us through the different scenarios. What if, for example, you prefer to be masked but find yourself seated in a row of unmasked flyers. Etc.

One thing that hopefully goes away forever are the mask selfies on Instagram posted by pilots and flight attendants. If, like me, you’re a fan of the various commercial aviation photostreams, you’ve seen them: picture after picture of airline workers cheerfully mugging in face masks. This seems wrong to me, and often smells sanctimonious.

And why do I get the feeling that most of these photos would never exist in the first place if not for the masks? Somehow the mask seems to be the entire point, which makes it all the more frustrating.

Yes, until now, everyone who flew needed to put a mask on. This was understood and accepted, as was any airline’s attempt to make the policy clear through advertising, promotional materials, on-board safety videos, and so forth. What’s driven me crazy, however, have been the constant attempts to cute-ify the wearing of masks. Because, in fact, there’s nothing cute about them. Masks are physical symptom of a society in pretty serious distress. This isn’t something to giggle at, normalize, or make light of.


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