The End Of The Mask Mandate Means Passengers Can Be Better Protected On Planes

The federal transportation mask mandate ended two and a half months ago. Airlines quickly lifted their own mask requirements. That means passengers no longer have to wear masks, but may do so if they wish.

  • The masks that were required before, such as cloth and paper masks, didn’t do much to protect the wearer. They might have limited spread somewhat by people who were infected.

  • But people can wear better masks, such as N95 masks, that provide protection to the wearer.

People don’t think clearly about masks. This week I saw people wearing N95 masks outdoors on a boat. They were cloth masks. Masks aren’t a talisman that wards off Covid-19, they are a tool.

While vaccination and boosters provide still-good protection against severe disease, and so does prior infection (especially in combination with vaccination) – and this is what most people care most about – there are still people who should be taking precautions to protect their health. And the end of the mask mandate actually makes it easier to do this.

That’s because when masks were required, they weren’t required so much to protect the wearer but to protect other people from the wearer. That meant masks with valves were not permitted. Valves making breathing in masks easier.

With the end of mask rules, there are no longer mask specifications.

  • You can wear an N95 mask with a valve. You can even wear a P100 mask with a valve which is going to be incredibly protective.

  • And this should not offend other passengers, because if they’re concerned about protecting themselves from you they can wear a highly protective mask, too.

The only challenge is not cabin crew may not have updated their priors. With the end of mask rules, there are no longer standards for which masks are allowed. However flight attendants may not have internalized this. Here’s a woman who reports that a Delta flight attendant wouldn’t allow her to use a mask with a valve, because that used to be the rule and didn’t realize it no longer is.

“You can’t wear your mask on the flight because it has an exhaust.” A flight attendant stopped me as I and my Dentec valveless respirator tried to board the plane. The irony is that masking is by choice on US ✈️ and 99% of the passengers don’t mask.

— Julie S. Lam (@MsJulieSLam) July 9, 2022

There are still some limits on how much personal protective equipment you can wear. Generally speaking anything that gets in the way of an evacuation isn’t permittted. At American Airlines face or body tents, personal air purifiers, and ozone generators are not permitted.

Body Pod in Delta First Class, Credit: Under The Weather

The truth is I don’t want to be super close to many other passengers, and this was true long before Covid-19 too. I’ll never forget sitting next to a man with bright red eyes on a United Airlines transcon flight nearly 25 years ago. A couple of days later I had dendritic ulcers in one of my eyes.

If there’s one lesson I wish people would take from the pandemic it’s to stay home when sick. But people aren’t going to do this, so considering personal protection, continuing to wash hands vigorously, and keeping distance from others can make good sense.

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