April 18th Update: A federal court in Florida has overturned the Biden Administration “Transportation Mask Mandate” and masks are now optional on US domestic flights and most international flights involving the United States.
Let’s talk about the simple question of when mandatory face masks on flights and in airports will be dropped, and if-it-is to happen — where and how it will be done?
Currently, masks and face coverings are still required on planes and in airports in the US and most of the world.
The Biden Administration had just announced that the previous expiration date of April 18th had been extended by “15 days”, meaning face masks would’ve still been required on planes and in airports until at least May, at the earliest.
The court ruling, and subsequent message from the TSA stating it won’t enforce the mandate ends that all, effective immediately.
Each country has ample chance to set their own policies, but in reality, most were waiting for the United States to make a move. For a recap of why it all got so confusing, here’s a recap of the hurdles governments faced.
Hurdle # 1: Risk Of Confusion
Airlines are an incredibly challenging businesses for many reasons, but one key reason is the international nature of the business.
Crossing borders often means varying rules or restrictions from one place to another — and airlines always need to strictly comply everywhere they go, or risk fines and bans.
A key reason mask mandates took so long to be dropped, particularly in places where health outlooks were extremely positive, was the risk of confusion. However simple you may find mask guidance, people seriously struggle.
If on the same airline you needed to wear a mask to one destination, but not another, there would be ripe confusion not just from passengers, but from crew too. The “do I?” question could create arguments between passengers with different understandings and put crew in even more treacherous positions.
Hurdle #2: Perception And Fear
Airlines received unfair perception during the pandemic about cabin environments and the risks of contracting Covid-19 on planes, versus other indoor spaces.
Despite US Department of Defense studies concluding that air flow on planes makes the cabin environments safer than virtually any other indoor environment, including 15x safer than standard air flow in homes and up to 5x safer than even hospital air filters, people looked at planes as the big problem.
If health situations were to turn for the worse — particularly as cases rise bringing new headlines and fears — airlines and air travel could unfairly bear the brunt of the blame yet again, however unfair it would be. Now, the courts can be blamed, not leaders.
“Caution” was the main message among airline leaders. They let government set the rules, and didn’t publicly campaign too much for change, after being caught out during Omicron. Making the matters even more complicated, cabin crew unions couldn’t quite make up their minds as to their preference.
A chance to reduce service — and therefore workload — was something unions were almost always “for”, and having people masked and seated made those union goals easier in many respects.
Hurdle #3: The US “Sets The Rules”
There’s room for some healthy debate here, but with air travel, the United States is almost a mafia like figure. Not like in an evil way, but a powerful way.
Whatever rules the US sets, such as security protocols or mask mandates, those are largely accepted everywhere, since any airline wishing to do business in the US would be required to uphold those rules on all US flights, or risk losing licensing.
Look no further than post 9/11 security to see the truth in this statement. The US set the protocols, everyone else followed. Security in most of the world follows standards set by the US systems.
Basically, now that the United States has made a move, others should follow.
Smaller regional airlines, such as Jet2 in the UK, have already dropped mask mandates for select flights. But until rules are dropped more broadly, confusion will continue. It’s been an area of great confusion, already.
Mask Are Now Optional In The USA
The US mask mandate requiring face coverings on planes and in airports was extended 15 days, but on the date of its scheduled April 18th, 2022 extension, a judge struck it down and declared the rule unlawful. Masks are now optional on US flights.
Could masks be lifted globally, or at least in by May 15th? That’s my bet. Countries are quickly ditching entry requirements related to Covid-19 and at some point, masks will likely follow.