“That is saying a lot, because the scientific justification for the TSA’s rule has always been weak, given that the conditions on airplanes are not conducive to COVID-19 transmission. The ventilation systems on commercial aircraft, which mix outdoor air with air recycled through HEPA filters and limit airflow between rows, help explain why there were few outbreaks associated with commercial flights even before vaccines were available.
“The risk of contracting COVID-19 during air travel is low,” an October 2020 article in The Journal of the American Medical Association noted. “Despite substantial numbers of travelers, the number of suspected and confirmed cases of in-flight COVID-19 transmission between passengers around the world appears small.”
Sebastian Hoehl, a researcher at the Institute for Medical Virology at Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany, concurred in an interview with Scientific American the following month. “An airplane cabin is probably one of the most secure conditions you can be in,” he observed.”
“On February 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stopped recommending general indoor masking in parts of the country it rates as “low” or “medium” risk, which as of last week covered more than 98 percent of the U.S. population. According to the CDC, then, it is safe to dispense with masks in stores, churches, schools, bars, and restaurants—environments where the risk of virus transmission is much higher than it is on airplanes.
Yet the TSA said it extended its mask rule “at CDC’s recommendation” so the agency could develop “a revised policy framework” based on “the latest science.” Mask rules for transportation are complicated, said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, because people are “moving from one zone to another”—an explanation that makes little sense when virtually the entire country is in the same “zone” as far as the CDC’s mask advice goes.”