In a vote on Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted 57 to 40 in favor of banning mask mandates during air travel. Some other airlines and countries have already made similar moves (see British Airways’ decision to stop requiring masks)
The current mask mandate was recently extended to April 18 by executive action. This bill is essentially seeking to overrule President Biden’s authority to enforce such a mandate. However, it’s not clear that the U.S. House would even bring the measure up for a vote or that it would pass if it did.
Frankly, I think it’s more likely that the existing mandate will expire as planned next month. It’s true that it was extended several times before. But this latest extension was only for a month. When I heard about it I saw it as sort of a punt. Whatever your views on the effectiveness of masking, there are some reasonable political and public health calculations that probably justified it.
It’s probably not great politically to be the first ones to repeal a mandate. Let someone else go first. The U.K. has done that. It’s also probably not wise to repeal the mandate right in the middle of spring break, especially with so much of the recent uptick in travel happening around tourism, not business travel.
Finally, I personally wouldn’t repeal the mandate without a plan made in concert with airlines. Much as the Federal Reserve signals interest rate increases months before actually voting on it, I view this as a signal while the Biden administration discusses with the FAA, CDC, and airlines on how to roll out a repeal.
I’ve flown several times during the mask mandate and never felt particularly afraid of getting sick, though I have noticed spotty enforcement by airports and airlines recently. I also don’t think it’s much of a burden. I mean, come on folks, you have to wear pants to get on an airplane, what’s so hard about wearing a mask on your face for a few hours?
But this has become an emotional battle, not a rational one. Whether it’s by repeal or expiration I look forward to the end of masks just so there’s one less thing to argue about.