a woman wearing a mask and gloves in an airplane

This week, the United States announced what just about everyone has been waiting for. Masks will not be required, nor will social distancing, in most situations, for fully vaccinated people. Noted exceptions still remain for planes, airports, supermarkets and select public spaces, where masks will be required, at least for now.

The news is a dream come true, after years of dystopian nightmares, but for airline staff, it may be the start of yet a new nightmare, as people feel more entitled to flaunt the rules and become disruptive to others.

If you care about travel, take extra care to treat airline team members how you’d wish to be treated, and err, when possible, on the side of reason.

Prediction: Chaos For Airports And Airplanes

Masks were hard enough to enforce during the pandemic when the federal mandate required they be worn in public and in almost all indoor settings.

Now, with exceptions for many spaces, but not airports and airplanes, compliance will be even more difficult, in this polarized political world we live in. People will play dumb and say they thought it meant “everywhere”, others will call things a “hoax” and for all airline staff, who are often underpaid and overworked, it’s going to be awful.

I sat on plenty of flights throughout the year where entitled boomers gave grief to cabin crew who politely asking them to put their masks back on. I also watched too many vigilante passengers make situations worse, by creating conflict with seat mates, which could’ve easily be diffused by other means.

Be the change you want to see.

The CDC, via its announcement yesterday – and the various studies which fueled it, has basically said vaccinated people shouldn’t worry about the status of others, and should feel empowered by their own status of vaccination.

An unvaccinated seat mate shouldn’t pose meaningful risk, statistically speaking, and if mask guidance is followed, the statistics sway even further toward nil. While this will be comforting to some, others will use it as an excuse to flaunt the rules which remain in place.

Despite the glamorous perception of the golden age of air travel, wages paid to most airline employees are dreadful, compared to other skilled positions. Basically, most people aren’t in it “for the money”.

a woman wearing a mask and gloves in an airplane

Yet government and airlines, expect these hard working and often underpaid people to play law enforcer, judge and jury in very difficult situations. Altitude only increases tension. As does the uneasy feeling of returning to the airport.

Yes, some airline team members get it wrong, like kicking families where 2 year olds struggle to keep masks on despite best efforts, off flights, but many are simply trying to keep everyone safe and follow the law.

One of the few invaluable currencies in the world which remains free to give, and priceless to receive is gratitude. It’s not hard, or costly, to say “thanks for getting us home”, or “I appreciate what you do”. It’s also not hard to wear a f**king mask.

I should know. I’ve spent countless hours on planes this year, including long stretches like London to Los Angeles. I can’t wait until the day the mask mandate is dropped, but it’s a small price to pay to ensure that the direction we’re headed – normalcy – stays.

The sooner numbers drop further, the sooner the plane-mask mandate may drop too.

I’ve seen seat mates take advantage of the “mask off during meal service” loophole to nurse beverages or meals, but again – if you’re vaccinated, all research says this should be inconsequential behavior for you. If you’re not, keep your mask on, and the advice should remain the same.

People often think they’re being helpful by scolding another passenger, but conflict between two passengers rarely ends well at altitude, particularly as things escalate when phones are switched into record mode. If you really have a problem, perhaps politely ask a member of cabin crew to remind passengers of the requirement.

It’s an awful imposition for them to enforce, but their powers of recourse are much stronger than yours. Plus, if you’re in a heated argument, a captain may just choose that the best solution is to kick both of you off.

a man wearing a face mask
Just wear your damn mask, for now, please.

You might not like being a “snitch” but it’s better than getting ditched. And again, studies say if you’re vaccinated, the actions of others shouldn’t be consequential to you if you’re following mask advice. Studies show air on planes is up to 10x safer than indoor environments like grocery stores, and 5x safer than hospitals.

But many of these worst case scenarios can be avoided by just being a decent human and treating people with due respect. Bad apples exist in every business, but any team member trying to get a flight ready for an on time departure, with safety at heart does not deserve a grilling, a political lecture or a patriotic song.

If you feel inclined for those things email your congressperson, or the CEO of the airline. They get the big bucks specifically to deal with BS from all angles.

Say hello, say thank you, keep it politely professional, leave opinions out and above all, just be kind to airline staff over the next few months. Their jobs are hard enough and all the new rules and changes are hard for everyone. A person working in the terminal or on your flight is not your enemy and they definitely don’t get paid enough to take your sh*t.

Don’t like it, write to people in positions of power in government, don’t bother people who are trying to get people from one place to another on time.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Gilbert, thank you for a good article.
    I’ve been super nice to cabin staff, flight attendants, etc. for years – until 2 days ago, when I was snitched on, and reported, by a FA on a short domestic flight. My personal mask is not new, and tends to slide down on my nose. After reminding once or twice to adjust my mask, and that my mask wasn’t properly worn (FA’s are now specialists on mask etiquette?), then giving me a replacement mask unsolicited (“thank you, I prefer to use mine, but thank you”), I was apparently reported to the airport Red Coat (this DL). I was met at the gate while deplaning, “talked to” in a demeaning manner like a first-grader, told I was “not listening” to FA (my mask was on all the time, but clearly not to the satisfaction of this particular FA), and along the way, was threatened with Fed fines, charges, cancellation of my return flight, black-listing, etc. My 30 yrs of loyalty to DL, my million-miler status (over 1.5 M miles flown in 30 yrs), Silver Medallion status, etc. apparently meant nothing to this DL Red Coat. She proceeded too chastise and threaten me in front of others. I was also told that “other passengers” complained, which is impossible to verify but appears to be untrue — I was at the window seat on the last row, with almost nobody walking by (short 52 min flight), and my seatmate was turned with her back to me and sleeping.
    So I’m all for giving underpaid airline personnel help respect and gratitude, until they pull rank on you, threaten to destroy your life(style) by black-listing you, and walk-away without any recourse.

    1. Gennady, that sounds like a really frustrating day. I think everyone is internalizing all these conflicts, fears and stresses of life differently, and it sounds like you were scapegoated. Sorry to hear it. I appreciate you keeping the open perspective despite the experience and hope your travels are nicer in the future! Best, G.

  2. Keep working to make sure the political invasion of leisure doesn’t abate. Good job!

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