As I was sitting on an airplane on Monday about to fly back to Boston after the long weekend, the flight attendant came over the loudspeaker and announced something that utterly shocked me — the mask mandate for public transportation had been struck down by a federal judge in Florida, so we were no longer required to wear face masks on airplanes. The passengers on the plane cheered and applauded the news — I sat there speechless.
Over the course of the pandemic, many have taken a more cautious stance towards COVID-19, promoting the wearing of masks, social distancing and getting vaccinated. Others, however, have taken the opposite stance, denying the effectiveness of masks and the vaccine especially, as well as not following social distancing protocols. Looking back at the mixed reactions on the plane, my immediate thought was just how representative it was of the political climate we live in today, our world so polarized over COVID-19.
However, as I started thinking beyond the basics of the situation, I realized because of the lifting of the mask mandates on public transportation, the United States might experience vast economic stimulus that would significantly outlast fiscal year 2022. This economic stimulus might especially impact the airline industry, because, at least from my experience coming from a southern state, the mask mandates were primarily enforced in airports and on airplanes. Air travel is also one of the most fiscally beneficial industries in the country, contributing to over five percent of gross domestic product.
As the mask mandate is lifted on airplanes, I believe there is bound to be an economically beneficial shift due to the political beliefs regarding masks held by many citizens of the United States. People who oppose wearing masks and consider the mask requirement a deterrent to air travel, when no longer required to wear one on an airplane, will most likely resume much of their previous air travel, resulting in an air travel boom. Throughout the pandemic, there have been numerous news stories of people being kicked off airplanes because of a refusal to wear a mask.
With this barrier gone, these individuals are also likely to resume traveling, and therefore, will funnel more money into this already robust industry and improve the United States economy.
Now, you may be wondering about those who are pro-mask — would any increase in travel by people who are anti-mask not be offset by the potential for decreased traveling of people who are pro-mask because of their potential discomfort with the situation? To that I respond, what choice do the people who are pro-mask have?
Many of them would typically avoid elective travel in this circumstance; however, some business travelers do not have a choice in this matter. They must accept they may feel an increased risk and continue traveling. Employers are unlikely to step back from the new normal and excuse pro-mask employees from business travel.
There are also other possibilities that could cause people who are pro-mask to be more likely to continue traveling even without the mask mandate in place, like visiting family that lives far away. With masks still being an option for air travel — and on other forms of public transit — many might still feel comfortable enough wearing a mask themselves to continue traveling as normal.
With the combination of people who are anti-mask rejoining the world of air travel, and the acceptance of change by those who are pro-mask likely because they do not have another choice, it is a strong possibility that the travel industry will receive a big boost. And with that, the economy will get a boost as well. Whether or not I agree with the decision to remove masks on airplanes and other forms of public transit, I can recognize the vast economic benefits that this new era of travel brings to the United States citizens. Beyond the money the industry will be receiving, more travel also means more jobs, another thing that will greatly benefit many people.
The world of travel is returning to pre-pandemic times regardless of whether all are ready for such a return. I have hope that despite the potential health hazard, our economy will reap the benefits of the lack of masking, a sacrifice that many of us are making.