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What flight attendants think of ending the mask mandate on airplanes

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Monday’s decision to rescind the mask mandate on airplanes and public transportation quickly (and predictably) turned into yet another lightning rod of the politicized pandemic.

Opponents to mandatory masks celebrated the ruling by a Florida federal judge that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had overstepped its authority. The pro-mask crowd questioned the judge’s credentials. Opinions were nearly as mixed from the people who will be dealing with the ramifications of the decision on a day-to-day basis, where the stakes are higher.

There were certainly some flight attendants who were thrilled with the decision, none more than the one who went viral after a passenger posted a video of him singing a song of joy beckoning passengers to “throw away your masks” as he walked down the aisle.

Other flight attendants were a bit less celebratory, but greeted the ruling with relief, not necessarily because of their political beliefs but because enforcing the policy in-flight has been a nightmare for the past two years.

Flight crews have reported 1,150 incidents of unruly passengers so far this year, with 744 related to mask mandates. In 2021, there were 5,981 reports, with 4,290 of those related to masks.

That solace of no longer having to enforce the policy was backed up by the flight attendant’s union. Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson told CNBC Tuesday morning that “there’s absolutely a sigh of relief from flight crews.” She added: “We do not take a position on extending the mask mandate . . . [but] imagine people who have been on front lines wearing a mask for 14, 15, 16 hours and having to enforce it.”

Still, many of the people who work the cabins in the sky expressed concerns—with several saying they don’t plan to make any changes to their own precautionary steps.

The end of mandatory-mask regulations comes as many airlines have cut back on their COVID sick-leave policies. In Europe, many airlines that dropped mask requirements have had to cancel hundreds of flights after suffering staff shortages due to COVID infections.

While U.S. COVID cases have been slightly on the rise lately, the numbers are, at present, nothing like what we saw with the surge from the delta and omicron variants. But experts have warned that a winter surge is likely. Assuming no new mask mandate is put into effect for airlines, that could result in a wave of cancellations and delays, which could make the busiest travel season of the year even more frustrating.

Of course, even with the mask mandate gone for now, it doesn’t mean this issue is settled permanently. While a judge ruled against the CDC’s order, the Biden administration announced on Tuesday it intends to appeal the ruling if the CDC decides that extending the mask mandate is necessary to protect public health.

Update, April 19, 2022: This article has been updated with information about the Biden administration’s intention to appeal the ruling ending the mask mandate.





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