Travelers rejoice: A federal district court judge has struck down the White House’s mask mandates on all mass transit, including commercial flights, buses, trains and more. Domestic airlines swiftly dropped their own mask requirements, meaning passengers can now choose to wear one or not, whether they’re flying on Delta, United, American or Southwest.
Like many of you, I believe this is very welcome news. I’ve been traveling by air more and more lately, and having the freedom to make my own informed decisions will create a more pleasant flying experience.
I trust the science, which has shown that airlines’ superior ventilation systems make the risk of transmitting Covid onboard very low. Most modern aircraft are equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, and cabin air is refreshed between 20 and 30 times every hour.
Having said all that, it looks likely that the Justice Department will appeal the district court’s decision, subject to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation.
The mainstream media is also attacking the judge, Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, because she’s young and a Trump appointee. Dozens of articles have already been written alleging she misread the law or took a too literal interpretation of the word sanitation.
I call this type of content FUD, or fear, uncertainty and doubt.
Air Travel Demand Has Already Been Increasing
Even with mask mandates in effect, demand for commercial air travel has been increasing for months. The chart below shows you the daily numbers of passengers screened at U.S. airports as a percent of the numbers on the same day in 2019, before the pandemic. We’ve seen a clear upward trend so far this year, especially since omicron cases began to recede in January. As an example, on Saturday, April 16, some 1.9 million people boarded commercial jets in the U.S., which is about 95% of the volume seen on the same travel day in 2019.
Again, that’s volume. If we’re talking about money spent, people are spending more on air travel now than they were in 2019, due to inflation. In March, online spending for domestic flights touched $8.8 billion, or 28% higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to Adobe.
Indeed, airfares are up right now along with fuel prices, but I’m optimistic this won’t have much of an impact on people’s travel decisions. Every flight I’ve been on in the past few months has been packed to capacity. That includes domestic and international.