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‘Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned on the Face Mask sign’

Wearing corona protection on flights should not be optional. It's time for governments to pass laws making it compulsory
A woman wears a face mask for fear of the coronavirus on the flight from Ben Gurion International Airport to Rome's Fiumicino airport on February 21, 2020. (Nati shohat/Flash90)
A woman wears a face mask for fear of the coronavirus on the flight from Ben Gurion International Airport to Rome's Fiumicino airport on February 21, 2020. (Nati shohat/Flash90)

While the world is still licking its wounds from the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the world’s largest airlines have already gotten back to work. If we are dreaming of a vacation in the Maldives, it might take a while, but either way we should remember to add to our packing checklist a face mask next to sunglasses and swimsuit. Face masks have become an integral part of our lives, and as flights are resuming all over the world, we should embrace face coverage inside the plane as well.

More and more airlines require their passengers to wear a face mask during boarding, but after closing the doors, we witness a completely different scenario. Inside the cabin, passengers take off their masks and do not adhere to physical distancing guidelines. The requirement to wear face masks during flights is not a federal regulation, but an airline policy. Thus, it is considered a recommendation, leaving flight attendants with no real power to enforce it through the threat of fines, or a willingness to confront a bare face passenger.

Though the effectiveness of face masks has been questioned since the beginning of the pandemic, according to The Lancet Journal recent studies show that wearing face masks can reduce the chances of infection or transmission by almost 80%. As one of the most crowded environments, an airplane can be a dangerous source of spreading COVID-19 among passengers and cabin crew, transferring the virus all over the world and starting a new wave of the pandemic.

Whether we like it or not, there is a clear need to enforce face masks during flights, and the most effective way is through legislation. It is time for governments to intervene and establish life-saving legislation, so we won’t have to deal with “Coronavirus 2.0.” It is the responsibility of governments to take action in order to keep us safe, even when it comes to less enjoyable legislation like not smoking for a 12-hour flight. Without the legislation against smoking on flights, passengers would be at risk of lighting on fire. With this in mind, today, without legislation against looting and violence, we would live in anarchy and chaos.

Some governments have already realized that intervention is needed. The Canadian government introduced new rules, requiring all air passengers to wear face coverage during flight time, airport screening or any other crowded times in the airport. Similarly, following the reopening of domestic flights in Saudi Arabia, the government requires all passengers to wear a face mask during flights, fining all bare face passengers.

As much as it limits our freedom to stay comfortable during flights, legislation is crucial in order to prevent spreading the virus worldwide, and also necessary for getting our lives back on track and allowing the economy to recover. This is a relatively small and temporary price to pay until a real-time, accurate diagnosis test or a vaccine will be developed and the requirement to wear face masks will no longer be relevant. Until then, we don’t know if our fellow passengers sitting next to us are virus-infected and while it is not likely that they are, we shouldn’t have to rely only on their good will to cover their faces. Will we be lucky enough to sit next to an obedient passenger or will we find ourselves next to someone who decides to take off his mask the minute the seat belt sign is off?

Although the demand for air travel has fallen sharply following the pandemic, it has been rising slowly in the past few weeks. In order to return back to normal, governments have to intervene and create new air travel legislation. We cannot rely on airline policies to prevent spreading the virus worldwide, nor can we trust individuals’ social responsibility. Furthermore, it is most likely that face masks are only a temporary guest in our house. It is just a matter of time before we travel freely around the globe again. But until then, and until we have a better way to diagnose the COVID-19 in real-time, we should be covering our faces during flights, and not because the flight attendant nicely asked us to do so, but because we obey the law.

About the Author
Dana was born and raised in Ra’anana, Israel, where she was a dance major at Ostrovsky High School. Following her service in the IDF Home Front Command as a search and rescue instructor, Dana worked for four years as a senior flight attendant at El Al Israeli Airlines. At IDC Herzliya, where she takes part in two honors programs – Arison’s business school honors program and the Argov Fellowship for Leadership and Diplomacy, Dana also has taken an active role in the “ProWoman” organization, promoting women in the Israeli Industry. She is passionate about arts, leadership, international relations, strategy and entrepreneurship.
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