Unmasked

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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40 Responses to “Unmasked”
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  1. LR says:

    It’s inevitable that wearing a mask or not will remain a legitimate litmus test as long as the pandemic is with us. If someone isn’t wearing a mask, it means they don’t mind spreading disease. Don’t count on that person helping you in any way, because they don’t care. Or else something’s wrong with their head. It’s like they’re carrying a sign that says “Either I don’t care about other people, and I feel immortal, or I’m gullible.”

  2. edithw says:

    There are a lot of physical (visible) symptoms that our society is in serious distress. Masks aren’t even close to the top of the list.

  3. Alan says:

    I’m heading for a holiday in the Lake Champlain region of upstate New York this summer. Before the drop in the facemask mandate I was looking at flying into either Burlington VT or Albany NY each of which would have required a 8-9 hour trip connecting through someplace like New York, Charlotte or Chicago. That sounded like hell to me as I would have been surrounded by unmasked and perhaps unvaccinated travelers for over 12 hours. So instead I booked a direct 5 hour flight to Montreal which even including the drive down to New York will be faster and I’ll know that my fellow travelers will be masked and vaccinated (or at least recently tested) which will be far less stressful. If I have to travel by air anyplace else I’ll either route myself via Canada or drive up to Vancouver and fly out of there.

  4. Bob Palmer says:

    I have always worn masks when sanding, spray painting, working in dusty conditions. And I expect most anti-maskers do the same. So this anti-masking isn’t about the what the mask is meant to do. Rather, it appears to be about being told to do it.

  5. Vicki Cohen says:

    Mask or not to Mask. I’m fine with whatever any one decides to do for themselves. For me, I will continue masking while in crowded airports that’s for sure (N95) during the boarding process and during disembarking process. Keep on during most of the flight. I have handled the problem of a seat shoulder to shoulder with other unknown people by flying business class – less crowded, less cramped cabin and more distance from other travelers. The why? my choice. I’m too old to worry about what anyone thinks of me wearing a mask. I prefer it to the unknowns who walk around airports sneezing, coughing, and maybe sick with something or other. I’ll be like the many Asians I have seen pre-pandemic in international airports over the years and wear a mask for as long as I like

  6. Charles Friedman says:

    I don’t understand the problem. The main reason for me to wear a mask is to protect others, especially the elderly and the immunocompromised, especially if any variant is spreading.

    To me “Mask or No Mask” is a no brainer. I don’t mind wearing one at all.

  7. SD Pal says:

    Rather red than dead….rather blue than China Flu? As a realist, I say make masks a personal choice!

  8. Bob Palmer says:

    To mask or not to mask ? I wear one when I am sanding in my shop. I wear one when I go out and it’s below zero outside.And I’ve worked factory jobs where we only took off our masks to eat lunch. Japanese have worn masks in public transit to reduce exposure to the flu virus for decades. So what’s the big deal about masks in the age of covid?

    I suspect this is not really about masks. It about politics. And it is so puerile that I feel embarrassed for our country.

  9. Paulie says:

    …and in a few weeks, we’ll see another spike in COVID cases, and all the talking heads on TV will stare at each other as if they can’t imagine how this possibly could have happened. But in the meantime, please, go on out and enjoy your freedom to pretend science doesn’t apply to you.

  10. JamesP says:

    I’ve always worn a mask while sleeping on a plane, long before the public health mandates. It keeps my nose and throat from drying out (the air on planes is very well filtered, but it is *extremely* dry). I also wiped down my seat, armrests, tray table, etc. with alcohol wipes long before, as well. Surface contamination is actually the way most germs spread on planes.

    I remember my first “covid flight” two years ago. There I was with my alcohol wipes… and so was everybody else! I felt normal lol.

    Anyway, I’m glad the requirement is done. I can still nod off on the plane with my mask if I want.

    As far as politics, nobody has bothered me whether I wore a mask or not.

  11. 757MAX says:

    Interesting take on masks determining your political affiliation. I hope it doesn’t come to that, and I agree with your description of it: “non-thinking”
    It’s definitely going to feel weird not having to wear a mask. Here in Spain, they just lifted the mandate for most places except public transport and medical centers. I won’t be wearing it, but I’ll keep one in my pocket just in case.

  12. Roger Wolff says:

    FYI, when masks were declared optional here in NL, it took a few days to peter out. So I don’t think left-ish people will continue to wear mawsks. They too will soon throw them in the bin.

  13. Mark R. says:

    More on this unqualified judge. She went to a fundamentalist college for her “education” that is more suited for training for the Republic of Gilead instead of a constitutional democracy. Her chief legal experience was working for Clarence Thomas. Her husband was a high up apparatchik for Homeland Security under the previous Presidential administration. One of the main plaintiffs who the judge ruled for is a long time anti-health, anti-vax activist who is a homeopath (the ultimate quackery in health care) and is on the board of a group that claims viruses don’t actually exist. (really).

    Worse, a district judge normally does not get to set policy for the entire country, but we’re not really a nation of laws and haven’t been for a while.

    If over a million of our fellow citizens had been killed by a foreign country, we’d be going to war against them. But for public health precautions? It’s not a coincidence that most of the deaths since vaccination started are unvaccinated Republicans. Watching Fox TV is a co-morbidity.

    Philip K. Dick said reality is what continues to exist when one stops believing in it.

    Covidiocracy.

  14. Indra says:

    I have no qualms about wearing a mask on a plane, I don’t care what people think. I had to do it even before Covid because of cancer medication that I take every day. I will continue to wear an N95 on a plane. I have worn an N95 all day, every day, at work for the last two years because I am a physician. I can attest to the fact that they really work, as I have been coughed, sneezed, spat on and generally spent plenty of time in small exam rooms with sick young children with Covid and have not been infected.

  15. Michael Kennedy says:

    It’s worth noting the federal judge responsible for the unmasking is Kathryn Mizelle, a Trump appointee. She was voted “unqualified” by the ABA.

  16. edith says:

    I really hope no one asks me why I’m wearing a mask. I’ve never asked anyone why they are wearing some stupid or ugly outfit. Because (A) it’s rude and (B) I know the answer (“I feel like it.”)

  17. Ian says:

    Actually it is quite common for people in Asia to wear a mask during flu season.

  18. Rod says:

    Am happy to wear a mask, if asked (i.e. if it’s the rule; or just because I’m asked by an immunosuppressed seatmate) but it all seems increasingly ludicrous with omicron.
    I mean, why don’t we have a mask rule during flu season?

  19. Barbara says:

    Ken,

    Thank you for reminding us that we need to be humane, compassionate, and considerate. And thank you for reminding us that not everything related to the pandemic is political.

    I am sorry you are so seriously ill, and I will hold a good thought for you.

  20. KenP says:

    One point that is missing from this dialogue is that some of us have to wear a mask all the time when out in public in a crowded situation. I have interstitial pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) that will kill me in 3 years. That is, unless I catch a cold while traveling, in which case I’ll be dead in a day. To label me as a liberal is unfair; indeed I have to tell people who lear at me because of my mask that I have a terminal disease. People understand that and then back off, but why do I have to play that card? Why can’t we all be kinder and more considerate of others who aren’t just like you?

  21. Ian says:

    “You can’t cure stupid”
    At least I hope that if the maskless get sick they stay out of the hospitals and stop taking beds from those such as cancer and heart patients.

  22. Den says:

    I wonder about 2 things, venue-related. First, is the air filtration on small, regional jets as good as it is on large aircraft? Second, if I am in the middle seat between 2 unmasked and unvaccinated people, am I not safer wearing a mask than not wearing one?

  23. Shawn Chittle says:

    I dare anyone whose headed for surgery to say “Hey, surgeon, you don’t have to wear that mask!” It’s laughable to think anyone with a middle school education doesn’t know that germs and viruses are passed from oral, nasal transmissions.

    What isn’t laughable is the idea that many people think airliners are petri-dishes of disease. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    This DoD study flew under the radar for years and I’ve been trying to share it with the world. It’s eye opening:

    https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/10/15/its-almost-impossible-get-covid-19-airplane-new-military-study-suggests.html

    I’ll still mask until the pandemic is clearly “over” if its ever over, because the no-maskers spread COVID like wildfire.

  24. Claire says:

    @Barbara Clouse

    a. Airplanes are not “high risk venues.” Their filtration systems are second to none.

    b. Cloth masks don’t stop spread. This has been proven repeatedly.

    c. You are still free to wear a mask if you choose.

  25. Barbara Clouse says:

    Deaths in the United States from Covid are approaching ONE MILLION. Wearing a mask in high-risk venues seems a small price to pay in light of that sobering statistic. That is not politics; that is public health.

  26. Simon says:

    Thank you, PeterW. Exactly.

    I’ll get up in arms about masking on planes once we can keep our shoes on at checkpoints like the rest of the civilized world or once we can again bring along a bottle of coke. Until then,air travel here is effed regardless of Covid or masks.

  27. PeterW says:

    3,000 people died on September 11, and we’ve been taking off our shoes ever since. At its peak, Covid was killing more than 3,000 people per day, but making passengers wear a mask is somehow going too far?

  28. Eric says:

    UncleStu;

    I don’t know where you pulled your flu numbers from, but since you appear to use the CDC’s words as gospel, this is directly from their website:

    October 21 through April 22:

    – 4.3 to 7.1 MILLION flu illnesses
    – 2,500 to 7,700 flu deaths

    https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm

    And to answer your question, I won’t ask why you’re still wearing a mask; you’re wearing a mask because you were once told to by a government entity. It’s not that hard to figure out.

  29. UncleStu says:

    For those of you who are going to continue wearing a mask on your flights, how will you respond to a passenger asking you why you are still wearing a mask?

    A couple of suggestions:

    1) Cough really hard and then move your mask to one side, then pant/breath hard. That’ll stop the questions. May empty the seat, too.

    2) By mouthing the words “f— you ” under my mask repeatedly until said passenger walks away confused.

    By the way, all this “useless mask usage and hand-washing” has given us the lowest number of flu cases – ever – recorded.
    2300.

    Not deaths.

    Cases.

    In the entire United States.

    Previous year: 38,000,000, with 22,000 deaths.

    Deaths.

    Not cases.

    I’m just gonna keep wearing the mask until only those who wear masks are left.

  30. Sandra smith says:

    I think it is silly to remove the mask mandate but request a negative test to come back to USA. I am in Aruba at this time and no one is wearing a mask and 90% of the hotel guests are Americans. I am giving the weird looks when I walk into a restaurant or elevator wearing a mask. Like don’t they worry about not being allowed to leave and be stranded at a foreign country? I have found that very interesting.

  31. Eric says:

    So the Biden administration’s CDC (and Jen Psaki) doesn’t like that the mask mandate for planes was rescinded by a judge and wants it to continue in the name of public health…yet regarding the hundreds of thousands of people currently gathering on the Mexico side of the border, they’re fine with letting Title 42 expire – that’s not a public health issue.

    Patrick, it’s absolutely impossible to separate politics from this issue. I’ve seen quotes from people in other articles that basically said “…the idiot airlines are ignoring science and a Trump-appointed judge is allowing them to basically hand down a death sentence to their customers…”

    Please just let the giant meteor end it all.

  32. Lndn says:

    >> To require a mask yet allow everyone to remove it when eating demonstrated the silliness of the mandate.

    More than two years into pandemic and you still don’t seem to be able to grasp that the goal is to minimise risk while keeping life and economy as normal as possible. Yes, it is a risk to eat without mask but much less so than to sit next another person without a mask for six or 12 hours. And you can wait while the person next to you finishes and puts the mask on before starting your meal, further minimising the risk. And with those simple measures you can almost be sure to arrive to your destination covid free. And if you are to meet your elder relatives at your destination you know that you did what you could to minimise the risk for them as well. Not that complicated.

  33. Ellen says:

    I’m wearing the mask indefinitely in crowded public spaces – especially on a plane. It appears that being fully vaxxed and boosted, plus wearing an N95 mask, gives you reasonable safety for travel, no matter what others do. I also wear the “duck bill” type which looks weird, but is very comfortable for me. It has kept me safe from colds as well as more serious illnesses. I’m 70 y/o and do not live within driving distance of any of my family.

  34. christine slike says:

    I feel just like you. HOW did we get here??

  35. Michael says:

    But masks are still required on the T on the way to the airport…

    I think I will keep wearing a mask for some time, especially if I’m traveling alone. There seems to be very little downside as I am reasonably comfortable in the masks I wear (the funny-looking duck-bill ones). Especially when traveling alone, I’m not really looking to interact with my seat opponents or the flight attendents or anyone really.

    I agree that wearing masks ONLY on planes and not other indoor situations seems silly, but I’m still wearing them in indoor public spaces much of the time, including work meetings. There are just too many people I know who’ve contracted COVID in the past few weeks. While I’m not too worried about severe disease (except for long COVID which seems scary but very rare), getting COVID is a huge disruption to me and my family, not to mention feeling crappy for a few days.

    Now the testing requirement to return by air, I really do hope they cancel that one soon. I would very much appreicate everyone testing before boarding my plane, or going out to eat or whatever, but until/unless we have $1 rapid tests in enough quantity for everyone to test every time they go out (i.e. daily), makes no sense to require it only in the most awkward conditions, when you’re away from home.

  36. Don Beyer says:

    To require a mask yet allow everyone to remove it when eating demonstrated the silliness of the mandate. It suggested one wasn’t infectious or could catch covid as long as one were eating. To make the mandate effective, no one for any reason should have been allowed to remove the mask. No food or drink should have been served.

    To all those crying over the end of the mandate, you all removed your mask to eat while talking to a stranger 16 inches from your face. You ate at an airport restaurant or food court without masks. Mask mandates were a farce as long as there were exceptions. I’m a left leaning Trump hater yet this is one of the issues issue I side with the right. All Covid travel restrictions should be lifted. It’s absurd that one needs to prove vaccination to cross the river from Maine to New Brunswick yet can freely travel around the 3,000,000 square miles of your own country without proof.

  37. Stephanie says:

    On the fence about this. On the one hand, wearing even light masks gets uncomfortable after many hours in the air plus the pre- and post-flight airport time. On the other hand, on several occasions over the years I’ve caught cold during a flight (fine boarding the plane, ill getting off it), so I’m not entirely convinced that airplane ventilation systems have improved much.

  38. MikeO says:

    Just look at the judge’s bio and qualifications. It tells you everything you need to know about her. Do we still need the mandate? Actual scientists and epidemiologists seem to think it isn’t the worst idea, and we still don’t know the impact BA.2 may have. But at this point I think it is everyone for themselves and if you do decide to wear a mask to protect yourself, make sure it is a good one and fits properly. At least 1/3 of the people on my last domestic flight a couple weeks ago either work their masks improperly or just plain took them off when the flight attendants weren’t looking. The guy across the aisle had his mask around his chin and continually ate from a big bag of chips and drank from fountain soda he’d brought with him the whole 3.5 hour flight, all the while coughing and hacking. So sadly, perhaps, it isn’t so much do we need it as does it even matter anymore.

  39. Tom says:

    I didn’t really think of the problem of having masked and unmasked passengers sitting near one another. Years ago the great airborne battle was between smokers and nonsmokers, which forced the industry to come up with separate sections for each group, and with varying degrees of success.

    While I think that some might cling to masks in the short term, I don’t think that there are that many people who want to do so for an entire flight. I remember being in church when New York State dropped the mask mandate; when the priest announced at the beginning of Mass that masks were no longer required there was a tremendous snapping sound audible throughout church as nearly everyone tore off their face coverings. (And they couldn’t all be Republicans.) I think the same will happen in the air.

  40. J.D. says:

    I likewise plan to stay away from discussing whether this is good, bad, or neutral. But I’d like to point out that the judge’s basis for the ruling is completely bonkers:

    “Wearing a mask cleans nothing,” U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle wrote in her decision on Monday. “At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance.”

    Has anyone ever claimed that masks did anything besides trap virus droplets?