Monday’s decision to rescind the mask mandate on airplanes and public transportation quickly (and predictably) turned into yet another lightning rod of the politicized pandemic.
Opponents to mandatory masks celebrated the ruling by a Florida federal judge that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had overstepped its authority. The pro-mask crowd questioned the judge’s credentials. Opinions were nearly as mixed from the people who will be dealing with the ramifications of the decision on a day-to-day basis, where the stakes are higher.
There were certainly some flight attendants who were thrilled with the decision, none more than the one who went viral after a passenger posted a video of him singing a song of joy beckoning passengers to “throw away your masks” as he walked down the aisle.
Posting again because Twitter deleted (?)
The end of the #maskmandate has this plane singing
???? Throw away your masks ???? pic.twitter.com/BvvCNLE6Ts
— Guy P. Football (@Guy_P_Football) April 19, 2022
Other flight attendants were a bit less celebratory, but greeted the ruling with relief, not necessarily because of their political beliefs but because enforcing the policy in-flight has been a nightmare for the past two years.
My dream job has become a nightmare because of those who don't want to wear masks. Science is still pro-mask and I'm pro-science. 90% OF FLIGHT CREW wanted this to end for our physical safety. Too many angry altercations on the aircraft already.
— Bee (@beestingbea) April 19, 2022
As a flight attendant you are 100% right. I’ve worked as an FA for 7 years and customer service for 16 years and being mask police was the most stressful thing I’ve encountered. People are nuts.
— Chris Jakobi (@SrslyChris) April 19, 2022
I gotta say, as a flight attendant who is very liberal/fully vaxxed/still masking in life- I’m happy the mask mandate is ending because I’m tired of grown ass adult men getting in my face and yelling at me when I tell them to put their mask on. And I’ll still be masking ????
— Amanda (@Amandaonlife) April 19, 2022
Flight crews have reported 1,150 incidents of unruly passengers so far this year, with 744 related to mask mandates. In 2021, there were 5,981 reports, with 4,290 of those related to masks.
That solace of no longer having to enforce the policy was backed up by the flight attendant’s union. Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson told CNBC Tuesday morning that “there’s absolutely a sigh of relief from flight crews.” She added: “We do not take a position on extending the mask mandate . . . [but] imagine people who have been on front lines wearing a mask for 14, 15, 16 hours and having to enforce it.”
Still, many of the people who work the cabins in the sky expressed concerns—with several saying they don’t plan to make any changes to their own precautionary steps.
As a flight attendant, it’s infuriating seeing the videos of these pilots announcing “mask freedom” while they’re the ones behind the cockpit door and we’re the ones faced with the passengers.
— KC (@kathleenlynnell) April 19, 2022
As a flight Attendant I will still be wearing my mask.
— flygirl5280 (@flygirl52801) April 19, 2022
Me either and I’m a flight attendant with asthma! How insane is this world? Just lost a friend to Covid 3 weeks ago! She was only 50 years old! Suffered in ICU for 4 weeks before finally passing away! Horrid death!
— Deedee Mayf (@DeedeeMayf) April 19, 2022
I’m a flight attendant and will continue to wear one as long as my airline will allow me to. I will wear one because I respect others
— Theta (@ThetaIrewyk) April 19, 2022
The end of mandatory-mask regulations comes as many airlines have cut back on their COVID sick-leave policies. In Europe, many airlines that dropped mask requirements have had to cancel hundreds of flights after suffering staff shortages due to COVID infections.
While U.S. COVID cases have been slightly on the rise lately, the numbers are, at present, nothing like what we saw with the surge from the delta and omicron variants. But experts have warned that a winter surge is likely. Assuming no new mask mandate is put into effect for airlines, that could result in a wave of cancellations and delays, which could make the busiest travel season of the year even more frustrating.
Of course, even with the mask mandate gone for now, it doesn’t mean this issue is settled permanently. While a judge ruled against the CDC’s order, the Biden administration announced on Tuesday it intends to appeal the ruling if the CDC decides that extending the mask mandate is necessary to protect public health.
Update, April 19, 2022: This article has been updated with information about the Biden administration’s intention to appeal the ruling ending the mask mandate.