As international travel starts to open up again many countries are starting to drop Covid19 restrictions and mandates, but many airlines are still insisting on passengers wearing masks, often breaking the law as they enforce their own self imposed rules. As the narratives around punitive measures taken as a result of the Covid19 pandemic start to crumble and airline rules can be justified less and less, it is time airlines stopped demanding travellers wear masks on flights.
It is not an exaggeration to say the way we travel has been severely impacted and changed over the last two years, from borders opening and closing, restrictions, rules and quarantines being imposed and changed seemingly on a whim and travel even being made illegal at one point in the UK, international travel has not been as easy as it once was.
Out of all restrictions travellers face, none – with the exception of the dreaded Vaccine Passports – were as pointless or controversial as mask mandates. From airports to airlines tinpot dictators rejoiced as they had one more rule to bash unwary travellers with and the tiny bit of power gained by getting to order someone to wear their mask seemed to fill the gaping hole they had in their lives, judging from the vehement zeal they pounced on any unwary non masked traveller with.
With every airline pretty much coming out with their own policies on masks and enforcing it as they saw fit, and the US mandating mask use on a federal level, travellers were being forced to mask up if they wanted to fly, whether they wanted to or not and more importantly whether they even could or not.
Many passengers are frankly unable to wear a mask and many more simply see the pointless futility of such theatre, and this has led to a significant increase in tension, arguments and even physical alterations on flights. The FAA has seen a significant increase in ‘unruly passenger‘ reports as a direct result of mask mandates in 2021. Air crew and airport security have been attacked and abused as a result of this mandate and countless fights have broken out between passengers, One woman even attacked an elderly man whilst forgetting to put her own mask on while screaming in his face!
And of course the punishments airlines dish out for these transgressions are extreme, with fines reaching the tens of thousands, passengers left stranded after having return tickets cancelled and banned from flying with the airline to being arrested by the FBI and put on no fly lists! Over a mask. A pointless bit of security theatre!
Is it worth it?
The mainstream media of course gleefully jump on anyone falling foul of this new mandate, liberally throwing words like anti vaxxer and anti masker around and pointing and laughing at those selfish, evil souls getting their just deserts with arrests and travel bans, revelling in the modern version of the medieval stocks, even if it was a 3 year old autistic child who kept taking the mask off!
Common sense is dead.
But it wasn’t just the fact that they were asking travellers to mask up that was the problem, it was of course the way they were doing it. Begrudgingly accepting the fact that there were a great many people who were physically, mentally or clinically exempt from being able to wear a mask, airlines put clauses in their diktats stating passengers were ‘allowed’ to go mask free if they met certain criteria. Unfortunately that criteria not only involved a painfully bureaucratic and frustrating process, but one that impinged on basic human rights, medical ethics and the law, too. This was made even worse by the fact that this was seemingly enforced differently dependent on the airline and the specific crew, with many not recognising exemptions at all.
As many venues in the UK quickly learned they were putting themselves in very risky legal waters by demanding people wear masks and demanding proof of exemptions, and were causing huge problems for the front facing staff who had to deal with customers who were rightly very angry about having their fundamental rights impinged. This is why the majority of UK venues backed off from doing so very quickly, something which most airlines seem to still be oblivious of.
Breaking The Law.
Of course every country does have its own laws, and there is little anyone can do about the laws another sovereign state passes. Australia and the US for example have tipped so far over into insane zealotry at this point that there is no saving them and their internal flights are best considered lost to the madness. Masking up is like a cult to many people now and challenging that behaviour is akin to handing out the pitchforks and torches to the mob, but here in the UK at least more sensible heads prevail and we actually have laws and ethical standards that have for a large part curtailed the excesses of the authoritarian masses.
It is important to remember that the official guidance from the UK government on the mandatory use of masks anywhere stated very explicitly from the very start that any exemption is valid, and that no one should be challenged on this exemption, nor should they be routinely asked for proof or that exemption or any underlying illness. This is backed up by the General Medical Council in the UK that has stated no Doctor has any obligation to write any such exemption and the airlines would do well to remember that there is zero requirement for any written proof.
Despite this, many airlines based in or flying from the UK are still doing so, which is not only highly unethical from a medical perspective, but is highly illegal under various human rights and privacy and discrimination legislation.
The Human Rights Act, as well as fundamental medical principles, state very clearly that everyone has the absolute right to medical privacy, which means that unless very specific legal parameters are met – which they are not in this case – then your medical history is between you and any medical professional you share that with, not a flight attendant on a power trip or a Karen screaming at you from three rows back to wear a mask. This is why the UK guidance states very clearly that no one can under any circumstance ask why you are exempt or ask for proof of your condition, because the government know it is illegal to do so. On top of that the Equalities Act 2010 states that no one can discriminate on the basis of any health condition or disability, so if you are exempt from wearing a mask, you cannot be asked about it, you cannot be compelled to show proof, and you certainly cannot be treated any differently because of that. That means mask mandates are by definition discriminatory.
So why exactly are they doing it? Well it certainly isn’t for your safety or for any clinical health reasons as they claim.
Not Following ‘The Science’.
If the reason was clinical and they were concerned about passenger health then why exactly did they quickly dispose of the empty middle seat rule they imposed when everyone was still terrified of anyone being within twenty feet of them? Why did they quietly stop giving extra time to cleaning crews to give the cabins a thorough disinfection during the turnaround between flights? (Which frankly is the biggest threat to health which is why I always advocate wiping down your immediate area such as tray tables and washing your hands).
It wouldn’t be for economic reasons now would it? Surely not. Surely airlines wouldn’t be putting money above your health, right?
Would it be too cynical to suggest that they put these measures in place to reassure people it is safe to fly and start selling tickets again? Only to ditch them when they found that not selling a third of the seats and spending longer in turnaround was costing them a fortune?
Would it be too cynical to suggest that keeping mask mandates in place are a way to publicly say they are ‘keeping people safe’ and ‘taking the situation seriously’ to calm the panicked masses down without actually costing them any money?
Well it certainly isn’t because they are following ‘the science’, as if that bastardised saying has any meaning left at all anymore. If they were they would know that despite the mandates enforced on people over the last year, all infection prevention control best practice as well as the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, International Health Regulations 2005 and the Asia Pacific Strategy For Emerging Diseases And Public Health Emergencies, as well as the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework and many more besides has never recommended masks for general public use. In fact it has recommended against general public use precisely because they are only for specific clinical tasks in a clinical environment using aseptic technique, and outside of that they become an infection source themselves because people are frankly generally filthy. The only exception to this in an extreme emergency (which this is not by any definition anymore) is if patients are actively symptomatic or you are looking after someone who is symptomatic, and even then the pandemic response guidance states that the effect is only mechanistic and there is little evidence for it. I mean does anyone remember every qualified medical professional stating this at the start of the pandemic?
It’s not as if the WHO, the UKs Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, the Deputy CMO Jonathan Van Tam, former deputy CMO Jenny Harries and even the famous flip flopper Fauci himself stated that masks don’t work at all at the start of this in line with all established Infection Prevention Control best practice.
And no, the science never changed, the message did.
If airlines were following ‘the science’ they would know that despite the zealotry of the mainstream media and the screechy ‘masks work’ brigade, ‘the science’ is now crumbling and everyone is admitting that cloth masks don’t work after all and now everyone must wear a fully fitted N95 and double and triple mask to boot, because you know, you can’t be seen to back down from this, right? What’s next? Clinical masks are pointless too so you have to wear a full on WWII era gas mask for every flight? How about a hazmat suit?
I mean it’s not as if they can forget that after the first lockdown when the airlines were desperate to reassure people it was safe to fly that they went out of their way to state that it was safe without even a single mention of masks at all. It’s not as if the International Air Transport Association‘s Medical Director published statistics that showed between the start of 2020 and 2021, at the height of the pandemic, there were only 44 identified potential cases, and I stress potential, out of 1.2 billion travellers. 44. Out of 1.2 billion!
It’s not as if joint publications by Airbus, Boeing and Embraer stated that simulations confirmed that aircraft airflow systems, particularly HEPA filters, along with the natural barrier of the seatback and the flow of air significantly reduce the risk of all virus spread and declared the cabin safer than most indoor requirements.
And bear in mind that was before masks were even introduced. That was before the majority of most populations were vaccinated and the majority had at least some level of natural immunity on top of that.
The use of masks was advised in the revised Takeoff Guidance by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) out of an absolute abundance of caution and as a way to instil confidence in passenger safety. Not out of any clinical evidence that they will make any difference to virus spread or passenger safety.
Well that confidence has turned into zealotry, and given that most of the UK no longer enforces mask use and all restrictions are being dropped as the narrative around their justification and proportionality fail, there is no reason why airlines shouldn’t be doing the same. But they are not. Like the ridiculous and much ridiculed 100 ml rule, they are keeping mask mandates as some form of redundant security theatre.
So what exactly is the point now?
- Masks have no benefit outside of the clinical setting they are meant for.
- The risk of Covid19 to most travellers is extremely low.
- Risk is even lower in an airplane cabin due to HEPA filters.
- Personal responsibility (ie hand washing and wiping surfaces) reduces that risk even more.
- They cause problems with passenger anger and behaviour for air crew.
- Many places including the UK are dropping mask mandates.
- They are unethical.
- They are intrusive.
- Their enforcement is illegal.
So why in the name of all the Gods are mask mandates on planes being kept?
It is to appease the terrified masses, plain and simple.
The fact is these mandates are in response to the general public mass fear and panic. It is many passengers themselves are demanding everyone wear a mask because seeing unmasked people on a flight makes them feel unsafe.
Well frankly, that’s just tough. Just because you are afraid, does not mean you are at risk, and policy should be led by science, not your feelings. Other peoples fear and ignorance has no place dictating what anyone must or mustn’t do.
I personally think it is disgusting that people walk to the airplane toilet in bare feet, but they have that right to do so. I think it is disgusting that passengers think it is okay to fling their hair over the back of the seat or put their feet up in the little gaps for the armrests, but they do.
What about the fact that as someone who is actually qualified in infection prevention control it horrifies me that passengers are allowed to bring masks on at all? Masks that are covered in germs, faecal matter, urine and all manner of other disgusting things and are allowed to touch them and then touch other parts of the plane which are never wiped down? Am I allowed to dictate you don’t wear one?
Don’t believe me? When was the last time you replaced that mask? Do you dispose of them aseptically? How many times has it been in and out of your pocket? How many times do you touch, readjust and fiddle with that thing when it is on your face? When was the last time you washed your hands? Should I tell you about the last time I was in an airport and watched three guys in succession leave the bathroom stalls, bypass the sink where I was washing my hands and fiddle with their masks on their face as they left? Do you want something next to your nose and mouth with faecal matter and urine all over it? I certainly don’t, and I don’t want your nasty hands touching anything around me either!
Yet I am not stopping you wearing one if you really want to am I? All I am saying is by the same token it should not be mandated on flights for everyone either.
It is unethical, it is illegal, and it is wrong.
The problem now is that airlines are still demanding people wear masks or show proof of exemption despite it being unethical and illegal, because airlines have always been a law unto themselves and have been allowed to get away with setting their own rules and treating passengers any way they like for far too long. It is time that stopped. Far more regulation is needed on everything from compensation claims to overbooking, but for now I will settle for them ending the ridiculous mandatory rules around masks.
There is no clinical or scientific justification to keep these mask mandates going beyond anything other than security theatre, and it is time that ended. It is time that travel got back to normal and every restriction and mandate dropped immediately, and if anyone is still terrified to travel while someone isn’t wearing a mask on a plane, then I think it is long past time that we stopped pandering to that fear and allowing it to become a full blown psychosis.
Let’s just get back to travelling normally again. Drop all these ridiculous restrictions. Let’s just get back on those planes, get as comfy as we can in the tiny seats, mind our own damn business with what everyone else is doing and enjoy the flight with a big drink and a smile on our face that everyone can see!
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