It’s long been known that some people are perhaps a little too comfortable doing vile things on airplanes—like kicking off their shoes and proceeding to clip their toenails, breastfeeding their hairless cat, watching porn plain-as-day, forcing everyone to listen to their Jesus music singalong, or, perhaps worst of all, reclining their seat all the way back. But if there’s anything more revolting than all the rest, it’s a flight attendant announcing via song that masks are no longer mandated on airplanes, in the middle of a global pandemic, when you’d purchased your ticket and boarded the plane under the assumption that certain safety protocols would be in place.
“Throw away your masks,” the JetBlue staffer belted to a full flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida en route to the nation’s capital, as he moved through the aisles with a garbage bag yesterday.
This week, concurrent—and truly cursed—interactions mid-flight took place across the country to the apparent glee of many passengers. Cheers, tears and yes, even song rang out on a number of flights as nearly every major airline (Delta, American, JetBlue, United, chief among them) announced mid-air that they would no longer mandate masks.
The news arrived less than a week after the Biden administration said it was extending the nationwide mask requirement for airplanes and public transit for 15 days, and as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to monitor a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
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So, what changed? In short: On Tuesday, Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a Trump-appointed federal judge from Florida ruled the CDC’s travel mask mandate was unlawful. As a result, the majority of airlines and airports in cities where covid-19 is currently on the rise, like Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, swiftly switched to mask-optional policy. That same day, ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber announced via their websites that masks will also be made optional while riding or driving.
It feels important to note that when Mizelle received the lifetime appointment to the federal bench, she had just eight years of experience practicing federal law and had been deemed“not qualified” by the American Bar Association for “the short time she has actually practiced law and her lack of meaningful trial experience.”
Fortunately, not everyone is following Mizelle’s lead. New York City, Chicago and Connecticut continue to require masks for most mass transit.
Despite his past alignment with the CDC, President Joe Biden hasn’t exactly doubled down on his support for the government agency. Yesterday, when asked whether or not travelers should still wear a mask, Biden simply answered, “That’s up to them.”
The Justice Department also claimed it won’t appeal Mizelle’s ruling unless the CDC believes the requirement is still necessary. As of now, it’s unclear what the CDC’s next move will be.
Not one person has ever mistaken me for an expert on public health, but there should be no question as to whether or not masks are a good idea.
While national hospitalizations reportedly hover near the lowest they’ve been in 21 months, cases of covid-19 have once again been on the rise throughout the country—especially in New York, Pennsylvania, California, Oregon and Vermont. Healthcare experts are also currently sounding the alarm about the Omicron subvariant, BA.2.12.1, which now accounts for 1 in 5 new cases nationwide and is apparently more transmissible than any of its predecessors. This is not exactly an ideal virus to have aboard a steel tube of unmasked and potentially immunocompromised passengers and unvaccinated children.
In a development that Mizelle and all those celebrating absolutely should have foreseen, not everyone is as thrilled about this development as the singing flight attendant. A recent poll reflected that the majority of Americans weren’t actually ready to drop the mask, and a number of passengers now say they’re feeling “scared” and vow to remain masked.
So long as the CDC doesn’t appeal it, this move will surely have a wide range of ramifications for a very long time, and evidence of such can easily be found overseas. Since ending their mask mandates, airlines like EasyJet and British Airways have been forced to scrap hundreds of flights thanks to “coronavirus-related” staffing shortages.
American union leaders like Sara Nelson, a United Airlines flight attendant and international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, have already spoken out, highlighting the number of potential health and labor violations and encouraging those excited to be rid of their masks to reconsider. “It’s really important that we’re all looking out for each other and thinking about—not just ourselves—but the situation that someone else might be in,” Nelson said on CNN.
However, if the last two years of pandemic have served as any indication of how adept Americans are at “looking out for each other,” I guess it’s best we buckle up and prepare for turbulence.