Masks are now optional on the major US airlines (photo via Julia_Sudnitskaya / Getty Images)
A federal judge in Florida ruled that the federal transportation mask mandate for the United States should no longer be mandated earlier this week, causing many to wonder whether the TSA and the government would uphold the judge’s critical decision.
On April 18, the TSA upheld the judge’s ruling and announced it would no longer enforce masking in public transportation, including in airplanes. While the Biden Administration is waiting on word from the CDC to decide whether or not they should appeal the judge’s decision based on current epidemiological evidence, it seems that the end of the mask mandate will stay, at least for now.
Airline workers hope this will be the end to the last two tumultuous years in the sky, where we saw record-breaking numbers of violence and assaults against airline attendants, many over the mask-wearing policy. Just in 2021 alone, the FAA recorded nearly 6,000 of these incidents, 73 percent of which were a direct result of passengers refusing to comply with the federal mask mandate.
While passengers on flights to certain international destinations, like Canada, will be required to continue wearing their masks for the time being, some advisors shared their thoughts and reactions on how their businesses are being impacted by the new decision.
Some, like Nick Pena, award-winning Travel Advisor with Cruise Planners, believes the end of the mask mandate will bring a surge in travelers to his agency who didn’t want to fly in the air with a mask on.
“As a matter of fact I have a spreadsheet full of names of clients. They have asked me to ‘call them’ whenever they can travel without a mask,” said Pena. “There are literally people just waiting to travel now that they don’t have to wear a mask. Many sighted concerns over comfort, not being able to breathe etc. Since the news broke…my phones have not stopped ringing. Consumers feel validated now. Those that wish to wear one can, but those that don’t now have the option of not wearing one.”
Cindy Dodds, Travel Consultant at Elm Grove Travel, flew on April 19 to Hawaii and called the experience “respectful,” but noted how the whole situation made her happier and feel more social: “I would imagine this is what winning the lottery feels like.”
“The woman sitting next to me on my flight to Phoenix was wearing a mask since she was going to visit a friend that is immune-compromised. She wore a mask but was happy things were getting back to normal,” Dodds said. “People seemed so much more social on the flight than other travel I have done during the pandemic. The isolation seems to be removed from traveling and I love it.”
Not all travel advisors are expecting a boom in clients, though. Susie Chau, owner of Carpe Diem Traveler, said that her clients hadn’t been too bothered about the mask mandate because they were just happy to travel.
“I’m sure some will be very happy about not having to wear a mask on a plane, but I don’t have any stories to share about people booking just because it’s ending or not traveling when it was in place. My clients were just happy to travel and willing to go along with whatever rules and restrictions were in place to make that happen.”
Claire Schoeder, Luxury Travel Advisor of Elevations Travel, agrees with Chau’s perspective but adds that while the mask mandate wasn’t an impediment for most of her clients, the return testing requirement for international travel still is: “I am not sure there will be a surge just with the lifting of the mask mandate. I certainly expect more bookings, but do not expect a surge until the testing requirement to fly back to the US is lifted—if only for fully vaccinated travelers.”
“I have lost bookings over the mask mandate, but especially over the testing requirement. Some of my good clients have expressed concern about testing positive and having to stay in the country they are visiting until they test negative,” Schoeder explains. “Families who travel together are doing domestic vacations or closed loop cruises to avoid being split up if one person tests positive and is not allowed to fly home.
“Many countries have dropped the testing requirement but the U.S. seems to be holding on to it as long as possible. It has unusual requirements that are difficult to explain to clients. Why do they have to test to fly home from Mexico, but if they cruise roundtrip from Miami and stop in Mexico, then they do not need a negative test to disembark in Miami? Once that testing limit is lifted then I expect a true surge in bookings. It is the last large obstacle many travel advisors face.”
Jordan Bradshaw, Vice President of Northcutt Travel Agency, agreed that the biggest hurdle for travelers isn’t the mask mandate, but the return testing requirement. He also notes that the end of the mask mandate might not be the end of all mask-wearing, at least where travel is concerned.
“Something important for people to realize is that the mask mandate was lifted for domestic travel and select international travel. So make sure you are reading and understand the requirements of the destination and I would recommend bringing a mask with you to have just in case you need it at any point in your travels.”
“Another important thing to remember is to be respectful to everyone around you,” he continued. “If someone is still choosing to wear a mask, they have the right to do so, just as you have a right to not wear one. With everything that everyone has gone through these past few years, it’s crucial that we all respect each other as people and fly comfortably and safely together.”