Air travel is one of the last places in the U.S. that still consistently requires mask usage. In place since early 2021, the rule has been extended a few times, most recently through April 18th.
The current Omicron variant is generally mild (well, except for several hundreds of people a day who die from it, and the 10% to 30% of people who wind up with Long COVID because of it). So, using other airlines and countries that have abolished masks as examples, airlines and other travel entities, are asking, and 21 states are suing, so that President Biden, the CDC, etc., make the rule that masks are no longer be required after that date.
Meanwhile, bunches of airlines are having meltdowns. This weekend was an excellent example. Granted, some of the delays and cancellations are due to weather. Others are due to mechanical issues. Or pilots on strike. Or when flight crews “time out” and can’t work anymore, and there’s no one else to take their place because all the airlines are still really short of staff. Whatever the reason or reasons, they’re resulting in flights delayed by hours, if not flights being canceled entirely. Bottom line is, when it comes to getting passengers from Point A to Point B, airlines are barely keeping their collective heads above water.
Do you know what would make that even worse? If bunches of flight attendants wound up catching COVID and had to call out for X number of days.
It’s happening in the UK right now.
The UK ended nearly all COVID restrictions in late January 2022, and most of the rest of them in late February. Their plan is to “live with COVID.”
One rule in the UK that continued was having to wear masks on planes. During varying periods in March, UK-based British Airways, easyJet, Jet2, TUI and Virgin Atlantic changed their mask policies such that masks weren’t required on their flights under specific circumstances (usually the rules of the countries the flights were going to). London Heathrow Airport also said that masks were no longer required.
COVID cases in the UK have since gone up and down; as of April 3rd, the 7-day average of new cases is just shy 100k – about half of what they were in early January, down 20% from late March, but up 300% from late February. In fact, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last week suggested that as many as one in every 13 people in the UK were infected by the virus, a record level.
The problem now? Airline crews are catching COVID by the droves.
Think about it – no masks on top of a variant that’s still super contagious. And one that, again, although generally mild, still kills some people.
So until medical science catches up, people who are COVID positive need to call out sick and stay home.
Welp, The Guardian is reporting that easyJet canceled 222 flights over the weekend, pulled another 62 off the schedule for this past Monday, and expects to cancel several hundred more. All due to high levels of COVID among its crew.
An easyJet spokesperson said: “As a result of the current high rates of Covid infections across Europe, like all businesses easyJet is experiencing higher than usual levels of employee sickness.”
Makes sense. Airline crew working together in close quarters. No one wearing masks. And a variant that’s easily passed from person to person.
If masks are off the table for planes after April 18th, we in the U.S. could be next. Crew members calling out sick because they have COVID would be the cherry on top of delays and cancellations due to weather, mechanical issues, staffing timeouts, general staff shortages, and workers’ strikes.
Be careful of what you wish for, travel friends.
(Frankly, after over 2 years of wearing a mask, I kind of forget when I’m even wearing my KN95 on planes, so I don’t know what the big deal about wearing one is. I guess some people are just more sensitive than others?)
Feature Photo: GoToVan / wikimedia
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