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Respect Flight Attendants: Lift Airline Mask Mandates Now

The mask mandate still in effect for air travel is only making the flight attendants’ job more difficult. With multiple states rolling back such restrictions, it is time to revisit the issue.

Flight Attendant putting overhead luggage in bins

When Oregon - yes, Oregon - announced that it would relax mask mandates, it marked a seminal moment in the chapter on Covid-era restrictions. A state that gave President Joe Biden a 16-point victory margin (five points higher than Hillary in 2016) is about as liberal as they come. Portland hosted B.L.M. protests, which often turned violent, for nearly a year - longer than any other metro area in the country.

Forty-seven other states and territories have announced the lifting of indoor mask mandates, but Washington remains committed to yesteryear policies. In its infinite wisdom scattered across several agencies, it has insisted on mask mandates for all public travel. It is illegal for travelers to remove their masks in airport concourses, bus stations, or on planes, trains, and buses.

During a hearing on airline oversight in December, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee that the air in passenger jets' cabins is so clean that face masks "don't add much" additional protection against the spread of COVID-19 on planes. "The statistics, I recall, is that 99.97 percent of airborne pathogens are captured by the HEPA [high-efficiency particulate air] filtering system, and it's turned over every two or three minutes." "I think the case is very strong that masks don't add much, if anything, in the air cabin," he said. "The environment is very safe, very high quality compared to any other indoor setting."

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker also concurred, "aircraft is the safest place you can be."

Unfortunately, airline mask mandates have become a severe safety issue - not the Covid kind - but the physical assault variety. This is what happens when federal bureaucrats sit behind safe desks and give out orders without weighing outcomes. The F.A.A. reported more than 4,500 passenger incidents related to mask mandates in 2021 and early 2022 alone.

Unruly Airline Passenger data provided by the FAA 2021-2022

On Jan 21, an American Airlines wide-body, an hour or so into its flight from Miami to London, returned to Miami because one passenger refused to wear a mask. Two weeks before, a Delta Airlines flight from Dublin to New York had a similar incident when crew members were forced to get another unruly passenger under control. We wonder why U.S. marshals on board did not quickly defuse both situations. If both flights did not have marshals on board, that raises a new safety question. Have we already forgotten 9/11?

It is bizarre for an administration that cares about the labor vote to expect flight attendants to enforce its mask mandate policy but provide them with no teeth. Rules without proper enforcement are congenitally designed to fail. No municipality will ever send out an unarmed police officer to enforce traffic laws - one never knows what kind of crazy character the officer may encounter during a traffic stop in the middle of the night.

Flight crew members are always on the road, and as careers go, they are in jobs with a high level of imbalance between work and life. It is not easy to maintain a regular schedule of diet and exercise. The work hours are grueling and rarely set. Frequent time-zone crosses are routine. Like truck drivers, another profession integral to the wheels of commerce, flight attendants also have challenges with relationships and raising families.

Flight attendants are like comedians who perform live shows on stage. They have to mask their personal challenges and wear a smile while at work. Gifted in social skills, they befriend passengers, serve food and drink, and are the last bastion of safety up in the air. The government is extraordinarily unfair to expect flight attendants to draw down on their hard-earned equity with fleeting passengers to enforce an unreasonable mandate. Assaults against flight attendants are nothing short of cruelty. We shouldn't have to fight the pandemic on their back.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the 2020 median flight attendant pay was $59,000 for a job that does not require a college degree. Travel perks, like free travel worldwide, attract younger employees, but overall compensation is hardly stellar.

President Biden should immediately issue an executive order lifting the mask mandate on airline flights, a prudent action that finally brings back a sense of normalcy to air travel. .

Or, if he insists on continuing his dinosaur-era policy of mask mandates, he should look at how Canada brought in the police to reopen the Ambassador bridge between Detroit and Windsor quickly. For starters, he should announce that every flight will henceforth carry an armed U.S. marshal to subdue unruly passengers.

Either way, our flight crews deserve nothing less.


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