News Release

The Folly of Lifting Mask Requirements for Airlines


A group of CEOs from major American airlines has released an open letter from Airlines for America, a travel-industry lobbying group, calling on President Biden to end the federal transportation mask mandate and the international pre-departure Covid-19 testing requirement. The rule requiring masks on planes and other forms of transportation is already set to expire on April 18

Dr. Leana Wen––a popular CNN medical analyst, emergency physician, and visiting professor at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health––has suggested that requirements could be lifted for vaccinated travelers only. She also suggested that airlines “could designate a section of the plane where people who want extra protection and agree to wear N95 or equivalent high-quality masks can sit together.” Dr. Wen has previously come under fire from progressive public health experts for bolstering the views of groups like the Urgency of Normal

But progressive public health experts have argued that the mask mandate should be kept in place.

Available for interviews:

    Shihipar leads the Narrative Projects and Policy Impact Initiatives at the People, Place & Health Collective at the Brown University School of Public Health.

    Shihipar contends that mask mandates on public transportation “should continue, especially with the BA.2 variant on the horizon. Planes have good ventilation systems, but studies have shown that universal masking on planes cuts down on the number of infections should an infected person be flying. The risk is not zero, especially if you are sitting next to someone who might be carrying the virus. Planes bring together people from all different parts of the country with different rates of infection and vaccination. There are currently no requirements to be vaccinated to board a plane and flying is an essential service. It is not just for leisure: people (especially those who are higher risk) may have to fly to see family or seek medical treatment, or for some other pressing reason.

    “A masking section [on planes] makes little sense; the air is shared and there would be people without masks in [close] proximity to people with masks. It also has the potential to open up those who are masking to harassment. Masking works best in all situations if the masking is universal. In any case, it is unlikely airlines will take such measures to create a mask section. If the mandate is repealed, it is more likely that we will see circumstances in the air replicate circumstances on the ground: no mask rules or accommodations, where the burden is left up to the individual. We should keep the current mandate in place as long as the pandemic persists.”