I’m a Flight Attendant—Here’s What I Think About the Mask Mandate Being Lifted

I was happy to wear a mask, but I'm even happier to take it off. Not having to deal with masks makes my job so much easier.

The national mask mandate on public transportation was lifted on April 18, 2022, after a federal judge in Florida found it unlawful. The ruling effectively lifted the mask mandate on planes, trains, and other forms of mass transportation. Here, one flight attendant shares her reaction to the mask mandate being lifted and how it’s affecting her so far. 

In 2018, I was working a corporate nine-to-five office job and daydreaming about traveling around the world. So, the following year, I decided to do something about it. I quit that life and became a flight attendant working for a major U.S. airline. I worked my first flight in September 2019. It was magical, and I loved everything about being a flight attendant—free travel to exotic locations, fun coworkers, and interesting work. I also adored serving the public and meeting new people.

Then March 2020 hit and…well, you know.

The COVID-19 pandemic put my dreams on hold as I was furloughed, along with nearly all of my coworkers. The whole world shut down. I was grounded for six months, and when I finally got to return to flying, everything felt different.

The challenges of flying during the pandemic

One of the biggest changes, of course, was wearing masks. My airline, like almost all major airlines, made them mandatory in May of 2020, well before the national mask mandate started in January 2021. We had to wear a mask our entire shift, which sometimes lasted multiple days. Not only did I have to wear a mask the entire time I was working or traveling on a plane, but I also had to wear one in the airport and on public transportation to and from my job. The only break I got was when I was alone in my hotel room.

I got the vaccines as soon as I was eligible and am now fully vaccinated, including with a booster shot. I see the wisdom in wearing a mask and support mask-wearing, but I’ll be the first to say that the masks did make my job a lot harder. It was tough to hear what people were saying through the masks and hard to communicate back with them.

Not only did the flight crew all have to adjust to wearing masks, but as flight attendants, we were in charge of enforcing the mask rules with the passengers. And there was plenty of drama around customers who refused to follow the health codes. The worst was when the airlines reinstated in-flight drink service, and then I had the frustrating job of serving people drinks while still telling them to keep their mask on and over their mouth and nose! All the rules were confusing to us and the passengers, which made my job even more difficult.

The vast majority of passengers were great, but every once in a while I’d get someone who refused to wear a mask properly, and they’d fight with other passengers or with me about it. I never had to duct-tape anyone to their seat or anything crazy like has been portrayed on social media, but there was a heightened feeling of tension, conflict, and fear. I also think that having the anonymity of the mask made people feel like they could behave badly in ways they wouldn’t have with their face showing. It was like people saw anyone who didn’t agree with them as an enemy, and I witnessed some pretty serious verbal bullying. I did my best to stay professional and reassuring, but it was tough.

Relief after the mask mandate was lifted

Then, on April 18, 2022, the federal mask mandate for public transportation was lifted. I felt an immediate sense of relief. I wasn’t against wearing masks, but now that the mandatory mask mandate is lifted, I am happy to take mine off. Personally, I’m not terribly worried about my health when going maskless. I’m in my early 30s and healthy. And the air on the plane is actually pretty clean. Also, despite being fully vaccinated and wearing a mask all the time, I still got COVID-19 in January of 2022. It wasn’t fun—I’ve never felt so exhausted in my life!—but I recovered well, and now I feel extra protected from the virus because I have antibodies from the vaccines and naturally.

The biggest reason I’m happy to ditch my mask is how it improves communication. I never realized before the pandemic how much I use my face to communicate with passengers and how much information I get from their faces. Not having to wear a mask makes it so much easier to figure out what people need and want. So much is said with a smile or the twitch of a nose.

It’s also more comfortable to do my job without having to worry about my mask slipping or sweat and moisture accumulation on my skin. (Maskne is a real problem!)

The airline I work for has made wearing a mask optional, and it’s a relief to not have the responsibility of being the mask police. People are free to make their own decisions regarding mask-wearing, and I just support them in it. (Although I really think if people are sick or coughing for any reason, regardless of COVID, they should mask up.)

Not everyone is happy with the decision

It’s only been a few days since the mask mandate, but so far, there are a significant number of flight attendants who are choosing to continue to mask for personal reasons. The response from our customers has been split about down the middle. Half of passengers are overjoyed to not have to wear masks anymore, while the other half still have health concerns and choose to keep their masks on. Unfortunately, this means that tensions are still higher than they were pre-pandemic, as customers continue to bicker with each other and the flight crew.

If there comes a time when masks are mandatory again, I will happily put one back on—but for now, I’m enjoying just getting to do my job the way I always dreamed about!

Emilia Ryan as told to Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.