Masks On Airplanes: Right Outcome, Wrong Reason


No surprise that this week’s court decision to overturn the CDC’s mandate on mask wearing in public transit ignited the predictable video of cheering passengers on airliners. I was a little surprised that the cheering wasn’t more enthusiastic, but then like everything else in modern America, sentiments are hopelessly divided on this issue.

I last wrote about this four months ago, at which time I thought the mask mandate should have been dropped around March 1, which is what I’d have done if it were up to me. At that point, prevalence was in decline, hospitalizations were down and COVID-19 deaths were also receding. Since then, there’s been a slight upward trend but not so much to burden the healthcare system, which to me was always the worry and the tell you could count on.

The airline business is uniquely vulnerable to a dangerous virus and if you don’t believe that, you weren’t paying in attention in April 2020, by which time load factors had dropped off a cliff. Some people claim, erroneously, that this was due to government restrictions. It was in fact people voting with their lungs. They perceived the risk as not being worth the reward of a trip, even an important one. In retrospect, the risk was probably inflated, but two years ago, we had no vaccines, minimal therapies and some hospitals were overwhelmed with cases and deaths. Nor should any of us forget the role airplanes played in vectoring this disease to every corner of the globe. COVID-19 did not come from China, or Italy or the U.K. on a ship or a bus. It came on a 777.

Airlines still haven’t recovered from the 2020 downturn; an airline trip is chaotic and uncertain due to mismatched capacity and demand. Hungry as they are for revenue, the airlines shouldn’t forget this can happen again, either with a resurgent SARS-CoV-2 or another virus that might be even worse. Which is why I’m not cheering the court case that lifted the mask mandate. A federal judge in Florida ruled that the CDC exceeded its authority in ordering the mandate, centering her logic on a narrow, and in my view, distorted, definition of “sanitation.” She basically reasoned that CDC had broad authority to sanitize a mess after it happened, but no authority to prevent it in the first place. And by the way, sanitation applies to things, not people. The plaintiff’s original suit argued that Congress abdicated its authority in giving CDC such power in the first place. I would have them read through the Code of Federal Regulations for a lesson not based in fantasy.

The Justice Department is appealing this ruling, as well it should, not to immediately reinstate the mandate, but to reestablish the ability to order one if it’s needed. And it very well could be. Long forgotten is the first SARS-CoV in 2003 that had a mortality rate as high as 15 percent and closer to 50 percent for people over 60. What do you think that would do to the airline business if it got loose again? I don’t know about you, but I’d want CDC to have reasonable authority to mandate mitigations without going through the rulemaking the judge faulted it for skipping and without waiting for an act of Congress while people are dying in the streets.

Throughout the pandemic, I periodically pushed reset to assure myself I wasn’t falling into group think on the efficacy of masks. Subsequent reporting convinces me that what was true then is true now: Masks are a weak to moderate mitigation supported by admittedly mixed data, but with a generally positive directionality. I found them slightly inconvenient, but not intrusive and certainly not tyranny. (Look at the photos of Mariupol for an example of that.)

I can fault CDC for overreach in the extent of the mask requirement. Its activation is, to a degree, arbitrary. There’s no hard number of case rates or deaths that says at this point, masks are needed and at this point, they aren’t. It requires data interpretation and risk assessment. But CDC shouldn’t consider itself the sole arbiter of relative risk. Citizens have that right, too, and at some point, there’s a collective sense of being willing to live with some risk. I think we’re at the point now and CDC should have sensed it and reacted sooner. Failing to do so damaged its credibility and makes it all the more difficult to ask the public to go along next time.

And there is certain to be a next time.

JAL 123 Revisited in Detail

Do you remember JAL 123? That was the 747 that crashed in Japan in August 1985, killing 520 people. Only four people survived. I remember it because I’ve written about it, but I either forgot or never knew many of the details. But Miles O’Brien dug them up in a new podcast series he has just published. Here’s a link to it. This is more than 90 minutes total and it’s riveting.

JAL 123 was a 747SR, a special model designed for the short domestic commuter flights both JAL and ANA were flying in Japan. It was on 250-mile flight from Tokyo to Osaka when it crashed in rugged terrain shortly after takeoff. I had forgotten it crashed at dusk and first responders didn’t arrive until the next morning, forcing survivors to spend a horrific night amidst the wreckage and the dead. I also didn’t know this crash has a permanent place in the Japanese consciousness and is memorialized every year in a way that only the Japanese can. JAL even erected a museum that contains hundreds of passenger artifacts and notes to next of kin.

The cause of the crash was a badly performed repair by Boeing on the aft pressure bulkhead, which had been damaged in a hard landing. When it failed, it took all of the airplane’s hydraulic systems with it and, another thing I forgot, it blew the entire vertical fin off the airplane, leaving just a stub. It was a repeat of what had been learned a decade before and what engineers came to know as the size effect. Widebody aircraft contained so much pressurized air that a breach in the pressure vessel could cause catastrophic damage. That’s what took down a DC-10 in Paris in 1974 when a cargo door blew off and nearly did another DC-10 near Windsor, Ontario two years before.

Some lessons are hard in the learning.

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  1. 100% on the CDC piece. The only change I would make “…the airlines shouldn’t forget this can happen again…” change ‘can happen’ to ‘will happen’ . We’re deluded to think this is the last pandemic of our time.

  2. Masks? On planes? They did?
    I gave up flying commercial airplanes when they forced me to take off my shoes and my belt just to enter a gate. I see they are still inflicting indignities on the paying passengers.

  3. Nope, natta. We now know that unelected bureaucrats are willing to take away freedom and destroy lives just because they said so. States and locals that didn’t mask up and lock down did better in many ways than those that did. Science has never been the real factor in making these decisions. Plain old surgical masks are silly. This was always about making the best out of a disaster for the sole purpose of dumping trillions to special interest and buying political power and most of all, putting into place a ballot harvesting scheme in many states all in the name of COVID. As long as they can prolong this the more money they can shovel. Too much wolf crying. The fools squandered any future faith in any future mandates. I hope this appeal makes it to the SC and it gets the same treatment as the employer mandate.

    • Partly right, largely wrong. Data show that surgical masks are largely theater when it comes to stopping aerosols (droplets are a little bit better). N95’s, however, do show a modest (repeat, modest) but statistically significant level of protection in an aircraft cabin environment. This work was done very early in the pandemic, with the original Alpha strain. Omicron, being wildly more transmissible, would likely dull the positive effects of using even the best masks available, but probably (as in, I don’t have the data) still show a some measurable advantage. When I fly in the Great Aluminum Tube in the Sky this weekend, I will be masked, but as much to keep my bad cold to myself as to keep circulating viruses out.
      I will gladly leave you to your politics. These are the facts.

      • Interesting, separating the common cold wearing a mask against not wearing one to mitigate spreading covid-19 or its variants. Whether cold or virus, they’re spread as droplets exhaled in close quarters. As pointed out, the great big aluminum tubes flying around the world spread covid-19 to the east and west coasts of America. Before this pandemic occurred, I’ll bet you wouldn’t wear a mask while flying when you had a cold because masks were considered poo poo. In the pan Asian nations including Japan, Singapore and Malaysia, they wear masks when cold and flu season arrives as a matter of health and civility against spreading it. Different cultures handling health issues.

        When push came to shove, America and the rest of the ‘civilized’ world became familiar with masks despite arguments of poor protection when experts against it suddenly pops up everywhere. There’s a reason why masks are worn in invasive surgical procedures and surgeries are staffed by healthy people much less prone to bringing their colds or flu germs into a surgical theater already scrubbed with sanitizers before each scheduled surgery. Oh, and let’s not forget full gowns and gloves. All to prevent a surgical patient from becoming infected with a cold, flu, covid-19 or hair falling into an open patient. No one argues against wearing every paraphernalia to protect the patient against some germs hitchhiking on surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists and others needed in surgical operations. Mitigating the spread of this pandemic in the dirty world outside a surgical room has caused life and death debates around masks.

        Does anyone even question why some chip manufacturing facilities operate in clean room standards to minimize contaminating hundreds of thousands of newly created electronic chips used in electronics? Or when assembling a satellite in a clean room for fear of a dust particle falling onto a multi million dollar infrared lens or light gathering chip that can ruin snapshots of newly discovered areas in space? Killing a snapshot from a dust or dirt particle ruins a ten billion dollar James Webb space telescope if it were to occur on land before it launched to a place no man can reach to wipe its lenses or damages delicate electronics from not wearing clean room clothing.

        Masking is a no brainer in flying closed containers once covid-19 and its variants are out in the world. After all, covid-19 was brought to America by plane without masks. In a confined space for several hours with complete strangers, who’s carrying covid-19 to spread it two years after the world wide pandemic started? A mask is better than nothing while flying until the majority are vaccinated and this pandemic is reduced to the same levels as the cold and flu. I was vaccinated as a child against measles, mumps and polio. I’m vaccinated for covid-19 and its variants. Haven’t flown in several years but would endure wearing a mask on any flight, even if I decide to wear a kn95 version to minimize catching someone else’s bug. Everyone can breathe with a mask on while sitting on flights. No running, jogging or push ups in flights.

    • Pretty typical….focus on a small flaw in the public health policy and conflate that into a total failure. I agree, cloth and surgical masks don’t work very well. N95’s do, especially the chinese ones that are more flexible. They leak less at the edges. Your conspiratorial take that the mask policy makers are out for money is just silly. In the beginning, the CDC should have NEVER said masks don’t work, don’t wear them. It wasn’t true, and their motivation to lie was based preventing a supply run on N95’s. It would have been better to tell the truth, and pass a temporary law making them illegal until the shortage eases. Truth always wins, and officials should never undermine themselves by having to take back a lie. I think masks don’t “destroy lives and take away freedom”. It’s a small inconveniences, so stop exaggerating. The parts that don’t work are lockdowns and closures. Those were ill-advises because there are too many neccesary exceptions. Remember, ONE case coming here led to the entire country getting infected. So a leaky lockdown really did nothing.

    • As Paul mentioned, did you remember how bad the SarsCOV I was? That was in the minds of many. Didn’t turn out that way, but there was no way of knowing. Then again, the five people that I knew personally that are dead now are real things.

  4. “The Science” supports an assertion that the cabins of airliners are full of some of the most sterile air on the planet.
    Covid Theatre never should have been a part of government’s reaction to this pandemic. It destroys confidence in our leaders’ judgement -and motives.
    BTW, if anyone wants to wear a mask – anywhere, any time – they are welcome to do so, and they have my support.

    • I’ve heard about the clean air in airliners, but I’m a doubting Thomas. Back when I was a gold member, I got sick after so many flights. And later, as my wife’s career took off, and she started collecting the miles, she would come home and give me the latest bug.

      Maybe it’s the airports, or the peanuts, or the hotels. Until someone explains my anecdotes, I remain unconvinced. I don’t expect anyone to believe my anecdotes over someone else’s study though, just a bit of tolerance for my staying on this side of the ocean.

      • Guess how covid-19 spread? Only one single person carries a virus on board any commercial aircraft and spreads it. Guess who then carries it, possibly becomes infected and spreads it to strangers when deplaning, walking thru the airport on the way to retrieve luggage on the the out, immediately spreading it to friends and family? I couldn’t understand how NYC became the east coast epicenter of this pandemic until some months later after thinking thru facts on how virus’ can spread with impunity. Oregon or Washington state brought covid-19 to the west coast the sane way, from passengers traveling from China back to America. Travelers to Europe returning to the east coast brought it to spread and the rest is history.

    • Sterile air doesn’t stay sterile very long after it passes in and out of 200 very unsterile people. If it were truly sterile, you wouldn’t smell some guys terrible breath from two rows back. Like Eric, back when I travelled for work I, too, dreaded the likely cold or flu I would contract on any given trip across the country.

    • YARS, perhaps you can also reclaim your freedom to fly into and land at any airport any which way you like. Nowhere in the constitution does it say you have to adhere to the proper pattern when landing.

      BTW, if anyone wants to fly the pattern – anywhere, any time – they are welcome to do so, and they have my support.

      Or maybe we could realize that every so often we must sacrifice a small amount of convenience or comfort so that OTHERS may be safer. I know of two people who had delicate health and died from Covid. Not with Covid, they weren’t about to die, they died only a few weeks after contracting it.

      So it seems clear to me that we all sacrifice some convenience and reason when the safety of others is concerned. I could complain about my freedoms being limited because the bureaucrats say we must drive 20mph past a school or 60 on the highway (when sometimes 80 would be perfectly safe). It doesn’t make us sheeple, it makes us considerate humans who can think beyond our own personal grievances.

      I also know I can safely approach an airport in a dramatically different way than a standard pattern when traffic is present. But your comment about people should be free to wear a mask, but you and others should not be forced to is no more logical (logical in the classical sense, meaning it follows a mathematical pattern) than deciding to fly straight in to an uncontrolled airport at 200 KIAS, 200 feet agl, and on final pulling a 6g climb until reaching Vfe, dropping flaps, then gear and make an anvil approach to the numbers. It can be done safely, has been done safely. But when flying around others, for the benefit of the safety of our fellow humans, I’ll spend the time and suffer the inconvenience of flying the pattern.

      Just remember the idea of helping and thinking of others as much as we think of ourselves.

      • Im sorry for your loss. Also, I’m not sure I get your point here. What policy are you actually proposing? And if you make something the law, are you asking for consideration, or are you demanding obedience?

        I’m fine with people making an argument for or against mask mandates, but I’m REALLY tired of the rhetoric without clear proposals.

        When and where should masks be mandated? Who should be included and exempted? What level of safety do you think this will provide the immune compromised? How long shall these mandates last? Do you think Covid will go away?

  5. I respectfully disagree with Paul on the court decision on the mask mandate. I hope this court decision stands. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that the government has the authority to suspend individual rights. This may not be the legal technicality involved but what in aviation doesn’t involve some technicality. Several states’ courts and legislators have overturned numerous mandates issued by those states’ governors or local health boards as unconstitutional. My home state actually passed a law, overriding the governor’s veto, that gives the legislature the authority to override any mandate issued by the governor or the local health board. All of those mandates in my home state ended when that law took affect(imagine that!). If an unelected health board or CDC wants to issue an advisory that’s fine, it becomes the legislatures responsibility to pass a law or mandate, not the executive branch. This country is not a kingdom or dictatorship. This mask mandate in most cases was ignored in the pt135 world. And the FAA told air carrier companies that those companies who would require pilots to wear a face covering in the cockpit would have to certify that those pilots could still don the emergency O2 mask within the required time certified. I know of no companies that have done that. Why else has the charter business exploded in the past 2 years?

    • Im with you Matt. Allowing the bureaucrats to do the dirty work of the elected fools was intentional. People focus too much on the single issue of masks though. The real damage was done by destroying lives through taking away businesses and abusing children by denying them an education and the obvious physical abuse. I think you will see civil disobedience on a level un dreamed of if they try this non-sense again. Personally, Ill put the common sense of most people up against the “scientific” frauds any day.

  6. It’s useful to consider the fact that we have created a huge “COVID industry” composed of health professionals & previously obscure government agency people dazzled by their newfound public prominence, the media with its insatiable hunger for the dramatic or anything that can be promoted as dramatic, and all the miscellaneous political and commercial entities who profit either directly or indirectly in some way from the pandemic status quo. All of these people and the agencies they represent are diminished if the COVID “emergency” is allowed to lapse, and they won’t go down without a fight.

  7. Sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein once said, “Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal.”

    We found that to be true in this pandemic at so many levels. We have a lot of work to do to simply get to the point to agree to work together for the next challenge without our bias, fear or self-righteousness getting in the way, and I’m not very optimistic about any progress on that task.

    As for the CDC losing credibility, maybe to some, but my view is no matter how objective they attempt to be, the fact that they work in risk assessment for social health in real time, they are openly vulnerable to political manipulation, because they must make choices about costs and benefits for 330 million people, and such choices are naturally political.

    Americans have become permanently disappointed and fearful for no good reason. We never think that the country is on the right track – we’re madly desperate to always find a scapegoat to blame for our imagined ills. Politicians, bureaucrats, scientists, even inanimate objects like masks – anyone or anything that we feel deserves our wrath is deemed guilty. Some even think a mask, government, girlfriend, BOOK, or an idea can magically vaporize ones individual freedom right outta their nose.

    Bigly problem there, we have.

    • “…they work in risk assessment for social health in real time, they are openly vulnerable to political manipulation, because they must make choices about costs and benefits for 330 million people…”

      What the mask-mandate “controversey” is about is: on what lawful basis does the CDC – or other bureaucrats – have the right to make “choices” on the behalf of those 330 million arguably “free” Americans?

      “Question authority” used to be a mantra of the dorm-room Left.
      Recently, it’s been characterized as “misinformation,” and even as “treason.”

      Two questions:
      How did we get here?
      What’s next?

      Danger, Will Robinson.

    • A Biglier Problem is our inability to distinguish between opinions, fiercely held, and facts, amply demonstrated. An opinion is what you believe is true because you want to. A fact is what is true despite what you might prefer.
      I was flying with a young student, practicing simulated engine out low approaches. She’d grown up in this particular 172. She knew it, and loved it well. She treated it like the family horse, even tossing a blanket over the cowl in winter.
      On final, the approach end began rising in the windshield. Her opinion was that she was in good shape to make the numbers. She had not taken into consideration the fact of a stiff headwind. I waited for her to notice, and respond. Finally, she did.
      “Oh, come on,” she said. “Come on!”
      The Skyhawk ignored her polite request, based on the opinion, fiercely held, that this machine knew her and would grant her wishes as a result. Naturally, it continued sinking until it responded to my application of throttle.
      Airplane wings do not fly by Bernoulli’s Opinion, any more than viruses respond to our own. Plan accordingly.

    • You make a good point Dave. America is the richest and most fortunate country in the world (that’s not hyperbole). It enjoys more freedoms than any place earth, it’s geographically diverse and beautiful, and offers more opportunity than anywhere else. Yet, as you say there is chronic fear and disappointment seemingly about everything”.

      Your world as you know it, is NOT coming to end just because there are others who disagree with your views. This intense fear disappointment and hatred of those who disagree with you however, will. That goes for both sides of the political spectrum.

  8. I knew Paul is a liberal. And here he proves it again.

    And, he proves he’s entirely ignorant of airliner environmental systems. I knew it before several airline executives appeared before Congress a few months ago. They clearly explained the environment on an airliner is far safer than any commercial building, including most hospital ORs. About the ONLY thing cleaner would be a microcircuit cleanroom with laminar airflow.

    Paul, stop proving yourself to be such a liberal idiot.

    • Ah, yes… the AIRLINE EXECUTIVES told Congress the environment in THEIR airplanes was safer than any commercial building, etc. This is very similar to foxes extolling the safety of the hen houses under their care.

      Nice opinion piece, Paul. Very well constructed and the fact that you managed to offend the extremes of both sides provides evidence that you may be correct!

    • A hard drive, or microcircuit cleanroom is not a good comparision. I’ve worked in cleanrooms all my life and I can tell you the air flow there is perceivable. You can feel it. You cannot on an airplane. The flow is much slower. Thus, if you are a couple seats away from someone, their infected breath will reach you before it heads down to the floor. Perhaps the guy two or three rows away might be ok, but then there’s the trip down the isle to the restroom, getting up to stretch, retrieving your bag above, and of course the ingress and egress of the plane itself. Oh, and the terminal, several times if you have connections. And everyone does. So, stop calling people names and open your mind.

  9. I flew a B747-136 LHR-JFK one week after the loss PA103 over Lockerbie in Scotland. At that tie we did not know whether it was sabotage or the failure of the lower 41 section. That the hull with the double bubble below 1st class and flight deck. As we climbed to height the flight deck fuselage tin canned, a clanking sound as the F/E instrument bench moved at a different speed from the hull. My F/O, a cautious young man, asked if this airplane had Benn modified to make the fuselage stronger. It had been, as we saw all the airlines 100 series had the extra upper deck windows. However this was not a comfort to him, so as we levelled off at FL310 `I called out “here we are folks. just past Lockerbie and so far so good”. Can’t take a joke you shouldn’t.t have joined.

  10. I’m very impressed (for once) reading the comments here.

    Has there yet been a definitive, thoroughly peer reviewed and *very large* study done on the efficacy of mask-wearing in relation to controlling the transmission of flu virus? If there has, why haven’t we all heard about it? The only one I’ve heard of (done in S Korea a long time ago – and I don’t think it had a very big sample size – I’m thinking it needs to be in the tens of thousands) found masks were, if anything, counter-productive. I totally get the notion that they can make us all feel better and in the right circumstances may well help cope but that time was at least a year ago. Even then if you examine the curves of infection graphs, the introduction of mandatory mask wearing (not to mention lock-downs) produced absolutely no effect. In my book that’s pretty much conclusive itself.

    Realistically, I sense people are finally realising that a/ the effects of C-19 were not as bad as we were led to believe and b/ the only way to weather the storm is by getting out in it, carrying on wth our lives as best we can and simply accepting that some of us (by far and away the vast majority of whom will be at end-of-life anyway) are not going to make it.

    If you feel you are particularly vulnerable then get vaccinated (although I would avoid the mRNA-based vaccines, personally, on the basis that they are no-where near as well tested as other much older technology) to mitigate the effects of the disease.

    Having had C-19 in the new year and not having been vaccinated, I do feel the severe levels of peer and governmental pressure to get vaccinated were grossly over the top. I also hope for the sake of everyone involved that time does not prove the fears of hundreds of highly qualified health professionals and scientists who were vilified and ‘cancelled’ over their concerns about rushed out vaccines are not found to be well-based.

    • Viruses are very small. In fact, they are so small that the light spectrum cannot reach them. They live in a black and white world. 200 million can fit side by side on the head of a pin. Very little is known about them. In fact, so far all the vaccine studies have only been tested on people who test negative – never on positive cases. So if you can filter out every virus with a mask, why aren’t every used mask treated as hazardous material? I see them littering everywhere. It is amazing how such a small creature has been able to cost people so much, caused worldwide divisions, disrupt world economies and spread illness and death. There are many medications that will actually safely kill viruses but there seems to be no interest in that subject!

      • Vyrall is the best. After contracting any of the Corona viruses, it has never failed to save a patient. Strep throat and Singles have been no match for this medication. Hospitals do not want it used because they would loose millions from Insurance companies.

        • I find your claim here quite out of line. If you have evidence of doctors not prescribing a drug because it would reduce their incomes, please share. Otherwise, make it clear that what you are saying is a slanderous assumption for which you have no proof. (I’m sort of doing it to you here so maybe you can see my point?)

  11. Masks or no masks, one thing Covid 19 showed is that the claims about the cleanliness of the air in passenger jets were nonsense.
    It was no great surprise — most of us have boarded a plane and been hit by a cabin of stale, fetid air.
    So when a couple of aircraft — the one from South Africa to The Netherlands comes to mind, were found to be Covid spreader events — that one bought Omnicron (sp?) to The Netherlands / Europe, people shrugged and shut borders.
    And you still hear tales of filters that have never been changed…
    The airlines swore that they would be putting more clean air in the cabin, but doing so increases fuel consumption, so the message seems not to have been passed on.

  12. >Masks are a weak to moderate mitigation<
    The latest medical opinions I've read say that yes, the most-used cloth masks are just that, but N95 (and likely KN95) masks are very effective. N95 masks are now widely available, but most people still aren't wearing them. I certainly am.

  13. I will quit wearing a mask when I don’t have to at a medical facility. To the comment about surgical masks don’t do any good then let your surgeon know they can forgo the mask during your surgery so the surgeon will be more comfortable!
    If you have seen video of crowds before the pandemic, in Japan,China and other asian countries you might have noticed quite a number of people wearing MASKS!

    • No one is asking or telling you to quit wearing a mask. Wear a mask all you want. What many who chose to not follow the “monkey see monkey do” theory is to not want to be forced to wear mask for the same silly reason. We saw this for what it was and won’t be played again.

  14. Given Paul must have known the reaction coming when he wrote this article for this audience, I give him credit for courage of his convictions! Since were sharing opinions here’s mine: This issue isn’t whether masks or effective or not, it’s whether we the people have authorized–or will continue to authorize–our government to issue mandates like these.

    Should the government have emergency powers? Yes, I think it should. But given the example we’ve just been given demonstrating the impact such extreme power can have on individuals, society, and the world as a whole, it is absolutely right and proper that the who, what, why, how, and when such power may or should be used receive the extreme scrutiny it’s now receiving. There are valid questions and concerns about just how far CDC may go in its mandate to “protect the public health,” and those limits need to be explored and defined to everyone’s (or at least the majority’s) satisfaction if there is any hope that citizens will trust its mandates going forward. Exactly how far may CDC intrude into our personal decisions?

    According to the latest CDC numbers, some 990K US citizens have died from COVID-19 since the first case was reported in Jan, 2020. During that same time, nearly 1.5 million have died from heart disease. If the CDC has emergency power to mandate masks to mitigate the clearly lesser danger of COVID then why can’t it mandate diet and exercise to mitigate the clearly greater danger of heart disease? While pondering that please remember CDC guidelines say nobody should eat rare steak or runny eggs, and that a woman should not have more than one alcoholic drink a day.

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, including 20+ as a government employee, giving a government agency power is a lot easier than taking it away. I applaud the judicial scrutiny CDC is getting.

  15. There was a reasonable case that wearing a mask had a good chance of saving others. Now there does not seem to be.

    It seemed to me from the news that the judge’s ruling was that either the government hadn’t made an adequate case that people not wearing masks was likely to harm others, or that they hadn’t followed the proper process so that could be determined.

    Our government, which insists constantly that we all follow their processes and procedures, abandoned so many of their own in the face of this emergency when that’s what many of the plans were for. In hindsight, most every deviance from our founder’s principles all the way to municipal manuals on pandemics were immediately ignored to our detriment. As pilots, we should all be cognizant of the danger to our ship of state.

    Maybe Paul can write an article on how the NTSB report would read, and how the hangar talk would sound after an airline crew reacted like our government has under both captains.

    Maybe we can examine if there is any relationship between a government that now seems to mostly enforce technical violations on its citizens and it not being able to actually do the basic things it’s supposed to accomplish like following it’s own damn manuals.

  16. I was pilot for a major U.S. airline for 30 years and a little over 18,000 hours in B727s, MD-80s, and B737s and I rarely got sick. And I don’t recall my fellow flight deck crewmembers getting sick much either, other than “fishing, hunting, boating” sickness. Given that in those 18,000 hours, and hundreds of thousands of passengers, there had to have been a considerable number with communicable diseases on board. I’m not a scientist, but there is my personal observation. You can draw the conclusion for yourselves. Also my son is a 20-year firefighter for our city fire department. Early on in the Covid-19 panic, three firefighters in his department contracted Covid-19 from patients they were transporting and they were wearing M-95 masks and nitrile gloves. My 2 cents.

  17. Newsflash, for the past 100 years, the government has been able to confine – against their will – persons with tuberculosis until treatment resulted their being non-contagious. Yep, those nasty unelected bureaucrats were doing what is necessary to prevent citizens from contracting TB from other citizens. I didn’t see much outcry from those who think that they should be free from those efforts to protect the public. It is also worth noting that, due to the vigilance of our unelected public health bureaucrats, we don’t often get TB from trains, busses and airplanes. But, try to remember that your relative freedom from nasty infectious diseases didn’t happen by accident and is, in fact, the result of the actions of relatively poorly paid and routinely disrespected public health officials.

    Regarding respiratory protection, N95 respirators work and they have been working for decades. And by “work”, I mean that they reduce meaningfully the risk of contracting COVID when the virus is present in ambient air (note, reduce does not mean that they prevent every case. Regardless, you still wear your harness or seat belt in your airplane even though some people who do so still die in the crash). People can cherry pick the data all they want, but the results are completely clear. Each effort to reduce transmission of COVID lowers the risk for everyone.

      • Read your own post, Fred.
        People who actually HAD TB were confined against their will. NOT people who potentially might get the disease some day.
        The government attempted to mask-up EVERYBODY – even pre-school-age children. The infamous Johns Hopkins study says that the action MIGHT have reduced the mortality rate of Covid – by two-tenths of one percent.

    • Except, the last few years those same government bureaucrats have left the back door wide open and said come right on in, with TB, Covid, or anything else you care to bring us. We don’t need to test you, check you, or vax you against TB. So why all the hand wringing over getting vaxes (that don’t work, and do cause harm) and wearing masks that provide maybe only a little protection? Because the gov’t wants to exert their control over you, require you to obey. That’s what it’s all about. So pardon me if I don’t respect the highly paid director of NIAID, Dr. F. or the director of the CDC, Ms. W. I don’t believe a word they’re saying. I think I can discern propaganda when I hear it. Not vaxed, not masked, and ivermectin on the shelf just in case.

  18. Having spent 30+ years flying for a major airline I can’t count how many times sick people would show up on airplanes, only to admit later that they knew they were sick even before they boarded the flight. Too many people are simply not concerned enough about others to be polite enough to just wear a mask. So yes, a mask mandate was a good idea. It still is. I will limit my travel on airlines for the time being. Hey, another excuse to fly my own airplane :).

  19. This is a long over due and long expected decision.

    Authority over matters of public health lies with the states and not the federal government except for some very limited areas such as the military and at the borders and this decision is merely reaffirming that long established fact.

    While the federal government can offer vaccinations, masks, or whatever, only the states can require them for the general population.

  20. “Citizens have that right, too, and at some point, there’s a collective sense of being willing to live with some risk.” Unfortunately, you are implying a minority of citizens along with commercial interests have the right to impose their unscientific opinion on the rest of the public.

  21. Excellent point from Paul about what “tyranny” really is. I want to slap the coddled, whiney, petty conspiracy theorists every time I hear mention of masks having something to do with tyranny.

    Another perspective: At this time there are still people dying from Covid at the rate of THREE AIRLINER CRASHES PER DAY. Think of masks as just one of the many safety features of a flight that we have to put up for safety’s sake. IMO, statistically speaking, masks probably save more lives than that seat belt you don’t think twice about fastening.

  22. Hardly “Nuff”, Jim G. Were you two outside in the breeze? Sharing a porta-potty?

    At what point does someone’s “right” not to wear a mask infringe on my “right” not to get sick from their exercise of it? The old “fist/nose” razor certainly should apply. If you spit on me, you can be charged with assault, a mere misdemeanor unless you knew (or should have known) that it could spread an infection. You have a Second Amendment right to bear arms, but you have no “right” (except in Florida) to shoot me with impunity.

    I read Judge Mizelle’s ruling, and forget the career scientists and doctors at the CDC, _I_ know more about immunology than she does, apparently. That’s only because my _wife_ has a PhD. in immunology. I’m a IT geek and smart enough to do what she says is best, which is wear an N95 when out.

    Re: The environment on airliners. Self-serving airline executives’ testimony notwithstanding, there is now plenty of research results on cabin airflow patterns. It boils down to the fact that the air flowing down from the gasper has quite a distance to go before being returned to the hepafilter, and for most of that time it is within the breathing space of another passenger. Those aboard aircraft without individual seat gaspers are toast. Having everyone in the cheek-to-jowl cabin wearing masks is the most effecting way of keeping airborne viral products from spreading.

    Re: The apparent slowing of COVID nationwide. No one has mentioned that for the last month or so, whole states have stopped reporting their infection rates to the CDC. Further subtract all those at-home tests everyone’s been giving themselves. (Did you report your results to your state’s Dept. of Health? I thought not.) So the CDC has a significant lack of data upon which to base their estimates of the nationwide infection rate. Now the whole cockpit crew is having the fish.

    Great work, all you selfish “mask rights” demanders!

  23. I am aghast that for someone who is a part of the aviation safety culture can say this.

    How often do we do things in aviation to reduce our risk by 5%? All the time. Sump the fuel? Do the preflight? Check the winds when we land our little taildragger? Pull the carb heat in flight once in a while? All those things we do produce the same sort of results that wearing a mask will do for our health. They maybe produce 5% of the accidents in the data. Yet we do them to keep safe and our risks managed. About the same percentage that even the lowest studies say that masks work at. And most studies are actually better than that. Even more with the N95 mask I wear in public.

    Part of being a pilot is this: we do things all the time to reduce our risks in flying. That should carry over to all of our lives. In a pandemic, that’s booster shots, masks and limiting our social interaction until the virus is tamped down.

    Shame on all who think that reducing your risk of getting a virus by a certain percentage can be ignored. Shame on those who think that getting the virus doesn’t also open the door to a variant that is far more deadly and easier to catch. Shame to those who can’t be patient and who want to reckless. I thought the aviation culture was better than this. O wait… this is from Florida.

    I get that there are a lot of right wing reactionary people in aviation and on the internet. They don’t realize how many of us aren’t impressed by their reactionary comments.

  24. Let’s say you’re wearing a mask that is tested to be 50% effective at stopping particles and I exhale near you. Your mask stops half of the aerosol particles I exhale. Now say we are both wearing 50% effective masks. I exhale and my mask stops half the aerosol particles and your mask stops half of that half that gets to you. So now you only inhale 25% of the aerosol particles that I exhaled. That’s why masks work best when ALL wear masks, not just those you can put up with the inconvenience. That’s why EVERYONE needed to wear masks inside closed spaces like airplanes.

  25. It is interesting to note that the annual “common Flu” infection rates have been much lower than normal for the past 2 years while a lot of the population was masked and socially distanced. It was not because COVID-19 displaced the virus; masking up is just one aspect of of preventing its spread. My credentiles: practicing MD

  26. To start, even though the “mask mandate” here in Ontario has been made voluntary, I still wear one in most public situations. I do recall the original SARs outbreak, it took place mostly here in Toronto. Even though, as PB mentions, it was magnitudes more infections than COVID-19, the outbreak was largely confined to a few hospitals because it was confined. We were kept away from those locations and other hospitals took up the slack.
    Airlines cut all flights from Toronto at that time. We were locked out of travel for just under a month. I was on the first airplane from Toronto to Tel Aviv, and we, the entire plane’s passengers, were transported from the aircraft, which was parked away from the terminal, by bus to a distant terminal where each and every person was checked by medical staff for symptons. Once cleared we were taken back to the main terminal for customs and baggage. No short cuts, no voluntary disclosure.
    I traveled in early March of 2020 to Chicago. On the way back, Ohare was strangley empty. No crowds at all. When I got back to Toronto, flights from all over the world were arriving, including China, and the only difference from normal was small signs as you entered the customs hall asking if you had been to China. Nobody asked any questions, all flights were put together for customs and there were at least 3 from China that arrived at the same time and NOBODY was checked by medical staff, even though the virus was known for at least 3 months by that point.
    So when the people who told us that everything would be OK, “we’re all in this together” mismanaged the whole effort, it’s not surprising that the net result has not been total acceptance of the res of the programme. Don’t get me started on the politicalization that the US and it’s various levels of government have put eveyone through during these past two years.
    Final point about the mask mandates; the “public health” officials who have determined the course of action for this part of the world used to have their biggest day when they closed a beach because of high coliform counts.
    I’ll keep wearing my mask, and when I next get on a plane, I’ll have one in my pocket. I’ve had my 4th jab, I’m as covered as I can be. Not sure if I want to spend the rest of my life with my glasses fogged.

  27. Paul,
    I wish you wouldn’t continue to wade into Covid. Covid is 100% political. Politics is 100% Bravo Sierra. I fly for fun. I read AvWeb to learn about aviation, not politics. I can read about politics anywhere. Where’s the unsubscribe button?

    • Pro tip for you, John. When the title of the article has “mask” in it, just skip it rather than allow it to outrage you to the point where you feel you have to join the conversation and marginalize the death of over a million people, many of whom a lot of us are grieving. Good for you that this pandemic didn’t affect your pristine life.

    • Yeah, I understand. I’ve lost three friends to COVID-19 in the past 17 months, all were pilots. All younger than me. It wasn’t political to their families. It was tragic.

      What has been the biggest effect on aviation during the last decade? It’s SARS-CoV2. Hands down. That makes it worthy of occasional discussion.

    • Yeah. It’s the difference between getting ALL of the news, or just what CNN, MSNBC, and the rest of the mainstream media, Facebook, and Twitter want you to hear.
      “Hunter biden laptop? Russian disinformation!”

          • I’ve not seen it, but a little research tells me about half are liberals and half conservatives, with mercurial political convictions. And that 45 was on 18 times further explains the IQ levels of which you speak.

  28. Feb. 10, 2020
    “I think the virus is going to be—it’s going to be fine.”

    Feb. 26, 2020
    “The 15 (cases in the US) within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”

    March 30, 2020
    “Stay calm, it will go away. You know it — you know it is going away, and it will go away, and we’re going to have a great victory.”

    April 22, 2022
    United States Covid Statistics: 80.8 Million Cases , 990 Thousand Deaths

      • What Trump said about wearing masks…

        Aug. 13, at the White House: “My administration has a different approach: We have urged Americans to wear masks, and I emphasized this is a patriotic thing to do. Maybe they’re great, and maybe they’re just good. Maybe they’re not so good.”

        • Raf,
          I’m confused. Other than justifiably quoting silly Trumpisms, what’s the point? With hindsight it seems to me the Swedes got this thing more right than anyone.

          I’ve said over and over on these pages I wasn’t willing to die on the hill of mask wearing one way or another. There have been, and are, bigger issues. Should not the federal government stance perhaps have been to urge mask use, just as it was to urge vaccination?

          • That would have made it more difficult to justify trillions of special interest spending. The plan was to take advantage of this opportunity to scare people and make them believe that they would DIE if they went outside without a mask on or allowed a cafe to serve a meal inside so they issued mandatory business closures in the NAME OF SCIENCE! (unless you wanted to go to Safeway or Home Depot or the Liquior Store on the corner since SCIENCE apparently proved that those locations were not a threat to spreading the disease). We now know better….

  29. A bit more investigation, and it seems to me the judge’s decision is ultimately correct application of the law.

    At the time the CDC issued its mandate for mask wearing, airlines had already been imposing their own mandates FOR MONTHS! Therefore, skipping the comment period was both uncalled for, unwise, unsafe, and ultimately demands the mandate be struck down.

    The current mandate allows those who don’t want to wear a mask to simply place a beverage and/or snack on their tray table and sit maskless. This is precisely the sort of thing that might have been improved by a comment period because though this sounds shocking, there are people in the country that can contribute who have IQ’s and educations both less than and greater than those of the folks at the CDC. They really need to be reminded.

    The CDC, like a poor cockpit crew, failed to follow procedure. Believe it or not, there are bigger issues with greater life consequences than this virus. One of those is that government should not violate its own rules. Doing so risks both our Republic and the relative world peace fostered by our country over most of the last century. We need to stop taking THIS for granted as it appears to be ending precisely because it is being taken so.

  30. Eric W: Thanks for acknowledging Trump’s quotes as “silly Trumpisms.” Some have referred to them as lies, while others have called them justifiable jargon for political gain. I believe that Trump recognized early that COVID would become his political nemesis and found powerlessness over the impact of the pandemic. Cover-ups (“silly Trumpisms”) were in order making them up on the go. But, he lost.

    Covid ongoing health issues and therapeutics matter. Regardless, some of his followers continue to believe the lies and misinformation from before, during, and after his term. Defying against the use of masks identified and united his supporters some getting kicked off planes for not wearing masks. As a consequence of encouraged COVID repudiation we now have a dangerously divided country with some of the people willing to destroy for political control.

    That is the point!

  31. We’ve had people willing to destroy for political control for at least a hundred years. That’s at the very root of applying socialism for Pete’s sake. (Actual socialism). I’m not making it up. It’s in their own writings.

    Having said that, I realize this has going wholly political so I’ll try to wrap it up.

    Can we not agree that good governance is important? We can agree Trump was not up to the task, but unless you can show where it was he that messed up the health alphabets before or during the crisis, can’t you agree they were messed up beforehand? We all here agree the FAA is broken in many ways.

    I’m not for letting the extremists guide our policies whether it be Trumpists, communists, levelers, or Putin. OTOH, I am for doing what we ought to do in order to rob them of energy and excuses. First, the pols and bureaucrats need to follow rules. Then, we follow the system for changing the rules. When that goes as it should, I don’t think you get an orange man with a sizable following breaking the rules.

    Finally, I think we need to start making corrections before the rules that are getting broken aren’t just the new and divisive ones.

  32. I enjoyed the virtue signaling with masks that did little to nothing. Hint, if you can smell a fart it wasn’t working. And speaking of farts, China didn’t tell everyone they figured out the China virus is spread from peoples rear end more that breath. That is why they did rear end swabs to State Department employees. They even began testing sewer water for the spread… bet most of you didn’t know that was going on.

  33. ‘We can agree Trump was not up to the task, but unless you can show where it was he that messed up the health alphabets before or during the crisis, can’t you agree they were messed up beforehand?’

    No. They, in cooperation with the previous adm, drafted a plan that would have been up to the task to at least keep the airways clear to have any airport or emergency landing spot available for the people, and the necessary and important governmental and business planning, right thru the time of vaccine development and beyond.

    Instead, a deliberate effort was made to obfuscate, deny, or ridicule any needed effort for the good of the country from a stealthy, deadly unseen enemy in order to simply pacify one man’s astonishing insecurity.
    What happened was beyond immoral and reckless, and any and every governmental group like the CDC, NIH and my beloved VA, along with countless others at state level, had to surprisingly and awkwardly shift into protective mode – to explain to the raging, fearful mob that they were and always are on their side.

    This mask debate – made political because of this deliberate distraction, is only real in the realm of ignorance and hypocrisy, however.

    This same group or political party, who lambast mask-wearers as sheeple and compliant, government stooges, while only they are standing up for freedom by not obeying the government mandates, were/are the very same people who called conscientious objectors to the government draft during Vietnam ‘commie pinko fags’ and other derogatory names – and supported my conscription into the Army by force in 1970, losing personal freedoms these clowns would not have the slightest idea about.

    Not a peep from them about personal liberty and freedom from government oppression then, but to get vaccinated and wear a mask for a very important war – on our own soil – well, that’s just beyond the pale.

    I’m thankful for AvWeb and its fine writers, apologies for the rant.

    • Well, Dave, if a man was walking down the street in a canoe and the wheel fell off how many pancakes would it take to fill a three-story building? The answer is 12 because birds don’t have teeth.

    • Dave, either you misunderstood me, I’m misunderstanding you.

      Nowhere in your post is there a specific claim where the Trump administration derailed anything. And no, I’m not going to that link. I’d sooner rather soup from a toilet.

  34. I really learned something from this. I always thought the Covid originated in China. Had no idea it originated from a B777.
    Seriously though, if our laws have been written in such a way that the CDC is not able to react in an appropriate and legal way to address this issue, the congress should act.
    Just remember one thing though, you should be able to read it before you vote. Not after

  35. Roy,
    The CDC and other health organizations have the power to enact necessary regulation, and get compliance. Even when they overreach.

    Unfortunately, they are, like so many of our American institutions, currently unwilling to do the work required. They lack discipline, responsibility, wisdom, and humility.

  36. I think the big picture of masks on airplanes is not being looked at.
    That being said the person with Ronia gets on the big tube, maybe infects the person next to them, but when they get off the big tube, with the cleanest air possible outside a clean room, they still have the Ronia and thats when the transmission really begins. Just my thoughts.

  37. I have always enjoyed your articles, Mr. Bertorelli. Your expertise in aviation is very evident and no doubt obtained through years of study and experience. Similar to Medical Doctors. I don’t think I would take advice from my primary physician on how to shoot a Cat III approach. Comparably, I don’t think an aviation expert should proclaim to know the merits of wearing or not wearing a mask during a deadly virus pandemic. The information on the efficacy of wearing a mask is available to all of us. The CDC’s decision was hardly arbitrary. Many scientists and doctors across the globe understood the importance of wearing a mask to, at the very least, mitigate the risk (Sound familiar). I think you may agree that at least some lives were saved through this method. Or maybe not. I lost three immediate family members before any protocols took effect. Wearing a mask and having to deal with the uncomfortable aspect does not compare to the uncomfortableness of planning three funerals, trauma, grief, and the many complexities that come with it.