It’s now done: masks are no longer required on US flights, as it’s been the case in several European countries for weeks. We’ll also explain why this is very logical, contrary to popular belief… for those who may not have really thought about it or who may have given in to the irrational fear that these masks have actually been symbolizing for a while.
The lifting of the mask requirement already took effect following a US federal court ruling (no, President Biden didn’t decide to follow the science: he had just extended the requirement until May 3). I’ll explain in a few seconds how this happened.
But first, let’s mention that it’s not extremist to lift the mask requirements after 2 years, it’s been done in so many places now. At some point, continuing to impose masks will have to be considered the extremist position when no one else around is doing it…
Judge strikes down mask requirement on planes
On Monday, the mask requirement on planes, in airports, and on other modes of transportation (the only mask requirement that was left in most of the US) was struck down by the federal court.
This is the result of a 59-page ruling by federal judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, based in Tampa, Florida.
(Of course, it had to come from there; it’s been almost a year since masks haven’t been required anywhere in Florida. The state attracted a record number of new residents precisely because of the lack of restrictive measures of any kind, and the anti-restriction governor has marketed his state as the “Free State of Florida.”)
But anyway, it’s not even the scientific and logical argument that won. So the US government won’t even be able to say that it ended up following the science — at least they’ve been consistent on this from the start.
Rather, it was an administrative technicality that signaled the end of the unpopular measure (the US Senate had even symbolically voted to repeal the requirement in a bipartisan effort back in March).
The judge simply ruled that the CDC (the US public health agency) and the federal government simply never had the authority to impose such a rule, which clearly restricts the freedom of movement of people who don’t want to wear a mask.
(Here in Canada, judges have always pretty much ignored rights and freedoms in order to rubber-stamp all pandemic-related restrictive measures, but in the US, let’s say they take individual rights more seriously than we do.)
Because most people don’t find legal stuff interesting, I’ll summarize the 2 main arguments very briefly:
- the authority to restrict freedom of movement can only apply to those arriving from a foreign country, and therefore the CDC is not within its rights to enforce masks on all planes
- this authority is limited to “sanitation,” and masks don’t sanitize according to this term’s definition (to make something clean)
For now, there is no change to their test requirement (to enter by air only) or their vaccination requirement (to enter by air and by land, in theory). We’ll obviously tell you as soon as that changes.
The end of masks on US flights?
So, does this ruling mean that masks are already optional on US flights?
But it didn’t seem like it was the case in the hours following the ruling, which is why we waited before publishing this.
Because initially, some airlines indicated that they would continue to enforce masks while waiting for the government’s official reaction.
But other more courageous airlines quickly announced that they would follow the science and comply with the ruling… and that masks were no longer required on their flights with immediate effect.
Several pilots and flight crew members who were in the air when the ruling was announced happily reported the end of the requirement to passengers mid-flight and celebrated with them as you can see in these 2 videos.
Flight attendants celebrating during announcement that it is now optional to wear a mask on domestic US flights.#ItsOver#MaskUp 😷#MasksOff 😜#MaskMandate 😶#QuoteoftheDay
“Wave ’em in the air
Like you just don’t care!” pic.twitter.com/jKHF1EllBn
— John Sitarek (@JohnSitarek) April 19, 2022
In short, the immediate lifting of the requirement by some airlines very quickly forced others to do the same, because in the US at least, airlines don’t want to have to enforce masks if their competitors are not doing the same.
In a matter of hours, even those who had said they would wait changed their position.
So the masks are officially gone on all US airlines.
The caveats of the end of masks on US flights
More precisely, the obligation to wear a mask on a plane is gone, but you’re of course free to continue to wear one if you feel like it. The freedom to choose, isn’t that a crazy concept? 😉
Hopefully, those who choose to continue to wear a mask will be treated with respect, as will those who choose not to wear one.
The government also confirmed that the requirement no longer applies (though, of course, the ruling could be appealed — April 20th update: the federal government is officially appealing the decision, but it’s very unlikely that the requirement would return… to be continued).
So this is the end for that requirement, but with the same caveats as in the European countries that lifted the mask weeks ago, however.
That is, the requirement no longer applies on domestic flights, of course, nor on flights to other countries that no longer require masks on planes.
But airlines will continue to enforce mask requirements on flights between the US and countries that still require them… like Canada.
Mask requirement in Canada and all other countries
I’ll save my predictions about the mask requirement on flights in Canada and the list of countries where it’s no longer in effect for a separate post, so subscribe to our free newsletter to receive it, along with all the other coronavirus updates for travelers.
It’s good to know, either if you want to avoid them because you’re not yet comfortable traveling without a mask, or if you want to choose them because you want to travel with your smile on display.
But let’s just say that in the meantime, you can very easily avoid having to put on a mask on a plane to travel to the United States. You just have to cross the land border and fly out of a US airport like Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Plattsburgh, Burlington, or Bellingham.
Plus, it will also save you from having to get tested to enter the US (even though tests cost as little as $17 or $25 in some provinces, it seems that many people want to avoid that more than I do with my 26 tests to this day).
To go somewhere else, it also gives you other possibilities. In my case, masks give my girlfriend rosacea, so she wanted to make sure she didn’t have to wear one on our transatlantic flight for our trip to Europe this summer (and I’m pretty sick of them myself obviously, as I’m sure you can tell from my 5 trips to the US since November to live a normal life).
So, I had already booked our Boston-London flights to make sure I would have an option to go without a mask if Canada keeps its requirement until 2023 as it’s quite possible.
I booked with my Aeroplan points, so it’s free to cancel if ever Canada lifts its requirement and I want to fly out of Canada directly. Free cancellation is really one of the best benefits of Aeroplan points (besides the fact that it gives you free flights, of course).
So in short, the list of countries that don’t require masks on planes is obviously going to get longer and Canada is likely to be among the last if its track record tells us anything. So going through the US will give you more options for mask-free travel.
Plus, US airlines charge less tax per ticket. And unlike Canadian airlines, let’s face it: they give a cash refund when they cancel flights (instead of illegally trying to pull a fast one on you). Plus, many have even banned ticket change fees permanently (instead of just temporarily offering one free change).
I’ll be able to test out my first mask-free flight for you next week. I specifically booked domestic flights in the US in my itinerary a while back to get to Memphis (Montréal-Newark-Memphis), since I figured the US would no longer require masks by then (it’s better to have 1 flight out of 2 without masks than 0 out of 2).
Why the mask requirement on planes makes no sense where masks are no longer required
Look, we completely understand that when you don’t know much about this, it may seem logical to keep requiring masks on planes, since it’s a metal tube and everyone is packed closely together.
But in reality, it’s completely irrational and it makes no sense, because contrary to popular belief, the air quality on commercial airplanes is factually better than in literally any indoor space.
So, since masks are no longer required in any indoor space (anywhere in the US), it flies in the face of science to want to enforce masks on flights between destinations where masks are no longer required anywhere else.
It’s fine to want to keep your mask of course, but it’s not okay to say that it’s necessary on a plane if it’s not necessary anywhere else. That is just false and wrong.
It’s an irrational fear, there’s really no other interpretation. We live in an era where feelings are more important than facts, and many people want a mask requirement on planes to make themselves feel better (and seek validation of these irrational fears to feel better as well), but here at Flytrippers, we don’t go down that path.
We believe in the importance of facts too much for that. It’s the same as when people are afraid their plane will crash, basically. It’s statistically ≈16 times more likely for someone to die in a car crash, but no one is afraid of that, so we’re certainly not going to tell you that it’s rational to be afraid of flying.
It’s an uncontrollable feeling for some, but we want to help you see the facts: if the mask is not required anywhere else, it makes no sense to require it on a plane.
Movie theaters, venues, restaurants, arenas, classrooms, offices… These are all places where you can sometimes be just as cramped as on a plane, but no masks are required there in the US, and the air quality in these places is much worse than on a plane.
Let me remind you that commercial airplanes have very powerful HEPA filters that capture 99.97% of particles, plus systems designed to ventilate from the top down to ensure that the air is completely renewed 20 to 30 times per hour. This is infinitely better than in any indoor space on the ground.
Of course, if your argument is that the mask requirement should not be removed from indoor spaces either, then at least it’s rational to keep it on planes as well.
On the other hand, every day, about 329 of the 330 million people in the US use indoor spaces that are not planes, while only 2 million travel by air. So you should put your efforts where it has the most impact.
But understanding the relative risks and contextualizing them is something that many people clearly have difficulty doing, as we’ve seen very clearly since the pandemic started (except for the first month, 99% of COVID-19 cases in Canada came from community transmission, but it was far more popular to irrationally continue to blame travelers, regardless of what the data published by Health Canada actually said).
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One more step towards a return to normalcy for travelers: a ruling has just invalidated the mask requirement on flights in the US, which means that it’s now possible to travel with your smile on display there, at least on domestic flights and on flights to other countries without a mask requirement. And contrary to what many people think, this makes a lot of sense because masks are no longer required anywhere else on the ground, and the air quality on planes is actually superior.
What would you like to know about masks on planes? Tell us in the comments below.
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Featured image: A mask-free passenger, also known as a normal passenger (photo credit: Delta Air Lines)
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