Fliers Beware: Poor Mask Discipline Endemic Even Among Airline, Airport Staff

If my sample is at all representative, the airlines and airports falling well short of their promises to make travel safe, most of all by doing a poor job with face mask discipline. Not only is that a risk in and of itself, above all to the workers, it sends a poor message to the general public. If airlines, whose business has collapsed to the degree that Hubert Horan estimates the US big four will have $65 billion in losses even after allowing for their bailout, can’t shape up, why should we expect more from mere travelers?

And what I saw from passengers was even more discouraging. My sightings suggest that the US won’t have much success in combatting coronavirus absent a treatment, a vaccine, or a massive PR campaign to change attitudes about masks (along with requirement to have employers supply them or reimburse the cost to all but at-home workers).

It isn’t just that too many people had no mask. What is worse is that we have mask theater: people who wear masks in such a way that it reduces or vitiates their value, like wearing them below their chins even though they are in a public place and have no excuse (eating or drinking) for having taken them off, or pulling them down when talking (!!!) or wearing them well below their noses.1

Before readers chide me for traveling at all, both trips were medical, and I was masked and gloved up, and carrying my trusty alcohol spray bottle. On this trip, I even have some n95 masks thanks to the generosity of a reader, which I deploy as needed.2

The first trip was at the end of March to the West Coast. This was before there was much contagion in Alabama. This was also a week when the airlines were slashing their schedules. I flew in the front of the bus to minimize risk, which due to the dearth of passengers, was very affordable. However, as an aside, the hassle was considerable. I had to switch from American to Delta because American got rid of all direct flights to Dallas the week I was traveling (they since restored some) and the alternate routes were horrific. My trip back was rescheduled twice, and because Delta cut itself back to only one flight daily from Atlanta to Birmingham, I had a four hour layover (which was vastly less terrible than it might have been. Due to the emptiness of the airport, I found a row of seats with no arms and got a pretty good nap).

I’ll belabor the March flights less because that was while the airlines were only starting to cope with coronavirus (although Delta had taken even then to sending regular messages to customers stressing how they’d become cleaning freaks) and outside New York City and Washington State, the infection levels had not yet moves into the red zone. Of all four flights, only one had one attendant wearing a mask, and that was on the last short leg, from Atlanta to Birmingham. However, the planes had very few passengers. The airlines flight-cutting had not caught up with the level of cancellations and no-shows. The only flight with as high as a 40% load factor (again that final leg) about half the passengers in my area wore masks, so the risk was not as bad as it might seem. In fact, in California, about 60% of the passengers in the waiting area had face coverings and were wearing them properly.

And the airports were ghost towns. I was the only passenger at TSA the times I went through. The TSA employees were all masked and gloved. It was creepy to see about 90% of the airport shops closed in Atlanta, the highest passenger traffic airport in the world, and only one or two other people in the terminal corridors.

But what was disconcerting was the behavior of the flight crew. In one of the long coastal flights, I was on an international plane with only three seats sold in a 30 seat first class (and the other paying passengers were a couple). There were two attendants and another four Delta employees hitching a ride in the section.

I was appalled to see the Delta types, unmasked, sitting close together and gabbing. I even had to shoo one of the unmasked attendants away from me when she got involved in the gossip-fest for getting closer than six feet (the Delta flight attendants did have gloves).

When I flew on the final leg, the one flight attendant wearing a mask tried to stop me from cleaning my seat area with alcohol, I assume because she didn’t like me demonstrating that I didn’t trust Delta’s housekeeping.

This was a pale comparison of what I saw today, when everyone in the travel business is touting how much they are doing to make things safe for customers. What I can’t fathom is why they aren’t doing a better job for the benefit of their co-workers, who are even more at risk.

Today I flew American and American has a lot to answer for.

In Birmingham, the cab driver disconcertingly was not wearing a mask so I talked up the importance of masks while trying not to sound accusatory.

Inside, all of the TSA staff were masked and gloved, and the wheelchair attendant wore his mask properly. However, TSA does not clean its bins, which are the dirtiest things in the airport.3 Moreover, the Birmingham airport does not require masks, so fewer than 25% of the passengers had them on. And the gate attendant didn’t have a mask, but offered hand sanitizer when I removed my gloves4 and thanked me for flying since it helped keep him employed.

On the first flight, American did seem successful in getting everyone to keep their masks on…except its own crew. One of the two stewardesses wore hers only when the flight was landing in Charlotte. The second had hers off her face when she asked me what I wanted to drink while we were on the ground, and did have it on for most of the flight. But towards the end, she sat with her unmasked colleague in the empty first row, and pulled her mask off to talk to her. I was less than six feet away and very pissed off.

But the big horrorshow was the Charlotte airport. It was a precursor to see the pilot of my inbound plane strip his mask when he stepped off, meaning he entered the terminal bare-faced.

Admittedly, current passengers no doubt skew towards those who are skeptical about virus risk, so I should have been prepared for the sight of the overwhelming majority of people in the surprisingly busy Charlotte airport not have masks on or have them pulled below their chins. Mask wearing, as opposed to mask display, was worse than in the quiet Birmingham airport.

In addition, that attitude seemed to be widely shared by airport employees. Staff in most stores were not wearing masks or not wearing them properly. My wheelchair attendant had hers below her nose, and when I asked her to pull it up, she didn’t. One of her colleagues came by, with his mask similarly at half mast. I had to tell him to move away because he had gotten too close, and I was downwind from him and the air conditioners to boot.

About half way through my trek across the terminal, I decided to count just the people wearing badges, meaning they were airline or terminal employees, and classify them as mask complaint or not. I got more than 25 in total, with about 60% non-compliant.

Oh, and the airport had me sign for the ride and rate the wheelchair person using a touch screen. I wound up giving her a green because anything less might have required me to interact even more with that microbe vector.

On the next flight, the flight attendants kept their masks on throughout the flight. However, my section was full this time. A deadheading pilot who sat next to me had his mask firmly on when he took his seat, but pulled it off his face after the flight started. I thought to say something and decided to do so when I was on the way back from the loo (I figured standing above him and having him feel at risk of other passengers hearing me call him out would increase the shame factor and thus the odds of cooperation) but he put it back on when I asked him to let me get past him.

On the Birmingham to Charlotte flight, the crew successfully instructed passengers to get off a few at a time to allow for some distancing. That did not happen in New York, even though the flight to Charlotte had come in when there were many connecting flights (like mine) while this second flight arrived when only three flights were departing after its arrival, and they all looked to be too close to be viable connections. In other words, Laguardia looked pretty sure to be everyone’s final destination, so there would be no real hardship in making passengers wait at most four minutes in the interest of safety.

At Laguardia, my wheelchair attendant was properly masked up. But the attendants for the other two chairs waiting weren’t, and they were way too close to each other for their and their charges’ good.

So if you are risk averse, and in particular, if you can’t justify paying for a first class seat, flying still looks like a bad idea. And the airlines and airports are a big part of the problem.


1 These nose refusniks very rarely are wearing glasses; surgical masks can steam up glasses, but the cloth/filter ones seem much less prone to do so.

2 I would have done mask +f ace shield, and I even got some good shields, but you can’t read through them, nor do better googles work with glasses.

3 This is not an exaggeration. A study found that everything in the bathrooms was cleaner. I am too lazy to fight with search engines to provide the link.

4 The best bad solution I can come up with to the TSA dirty bins problem is to don gloves before I get into the cab and wear them though the TSA checkpoint, and then strip them off.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    What surprises me about all this is that you would think that it’s in the airlines interest to be visibly cleaner than clean. Just in general conversation I’ve heard so many people say that they are afraid of long haul flights – several mention the horror of using an airline toilet with the possibility that one person on the flight is infected. Even if it was mostly theatre, I would have thought that at a minimum enforcing a strict mask rule on employees would be good business.

    1. Clive

      I don’t doubt the intention and the desire is there in the airlines (and others) to embed measures which will reduce the perceived risks from flying, but at the risk of redundancy (this is a point I’ve made repeatedly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic) there’s really only three basic permutations to implementing public health policy — which will apply equally to both airline staff and airline customers:

      Fear — if people are sufficiently scared either through their own perceptions or invoked through external perception-management approaches they will comply with steps they think will reduce their risk of harm

      Coercion or force — you can inflict unpleasant consequences on non-compliers for their non-compliance with the hope of improving compliance rates; appeals to morals, ethics or senses of public duty and obligation, especially if they’re based on emotional responses (“you’re making me suffer”, “you’re putting me at risk”, “you’re not being fair” are examples of these) fall into the coercion category too because they are attempts to inflict guilt.

      Education — when people are given information and facts on the matter, they can, if they believe the source of the data, form logical conclusions based on the fact-set and will change their behaviours as they consciously re-evaluate their risk/cost/benefit trade-offs.

      Taking each in turn, fear works. But it only works for a while. Eventually people adjust to the newly fearful environment (given a steady-state level of fear) and what scared them on day-1 scares them a little less (through familiarity) on day-10 and hardly bothers them at all by day-100. You can try changing the fear factors to replace those which people are progressively becoming desensitised to, but there’s a limit for any particular genre how many permutations you can come up with. You can try increasing the severity of the fear for the original frightening thing, but this needs new and novel storylines — eventually even the most imaginative nightmare creations jump their sharks.

      In the context we have here, air travel, coercion options are limited. Even if, say for the sake of example, the airlines made a big show of firing staff for not adhering to their policy (which is impractical anyway because the specific circumstances always have to be taken into account) cabin crew aren’t able to deal with situations involving mass non-compliance by customers. They can’t throw 20 to 30% of customers off each flight, if that’s the sorts of non-compliance rates which are typical. It’s simplly impractical. Removing one or two unruly passengers is disruptive enough. And, of course, removing passengers in-flight means an unscheduled stop somewhere — hugely costly for the airline.

      The only one which has been proven to work in the long-run is education. Like any educational process, this isn’t amenable to short-cuts. Anyone who’s tried to learn a language or acquire some other complex skill knows this. There’s some quick and fun things you can do — which get you a certain superficial level of understanding and permeate to a limited depth how much you’ll change your life-long habits, like watching instructional videos, especially if they’re designed to be entertaining. But to change your core being and core beliefs (or core habitual behaviours) you need daily discipline — learning vocabulary lists, memorising dates and names, drawing basic shapes repeatedly and accurately etc. — and the motivation to keep at these things when your morale flags. In short, you have to want to learn and want to do things differently than what you’re used to doing.

      I have seen no serious attempts by public health bodies, government agencies or individual campaigners to educate. Probably because education is so hard and there is no guarantee of success. As anyone who’s ever educated themselves about anything knows, change derived from learning and self-development or self-improvement is a two-way process between the educator and the educated. But, here as elsewhere — and this is a societal problem for us all — everyone wants quick wins and short cuts. Few have the patience to begin and then continue with the sort of long-term educational process which is required here. And the lack of universally acknowledged credible role models to do the educating isn’t going to be solved quickly, either, given the low levels of trust in our societies (which is probably fully justified given the huge levels of hypocrisy and dishonesty around).

      1. Stephen the Tech Critic

        Wouldn’t mandatory mask usage be much easier to enforce if airlines offered complimentary masks to customers who don’t have one?

        It seems to me that they just don’t care. Loss of revenue from customers appalled by the conditions? Meh… Potential class action suits from employees and families who suffer from the virus due to poor compliance across the company? Whatever… Uncle Fed makes a lot of those hard problems seemingly go away.

        As for the employees, who’ve been at-risk the whole time, 10-100 days was probably long enough for the fear of losing one’s job to overwhelm fears of contracting the virus. For them, merely going to work may cause so much cognitive dissonance that it becomes psychologically preferable to completely ignore the risks from the virus.

        I think the above may apply to a lot of people in general. It’s not just a matter of fear wearing off over time. Our governments utterly failed to support the public during the “lock-down” phase. A lot of people are afraid of what will happen to the economy or to social stability if restrictions are tightened again. They are probably right to be afraid of these things.

        That’s the thing. We can and should talk about what governments and business leaders *should* be doing to combat the virus, but collectively we’re stuck in the TINA neo-liberal trap which leads people to conclude that we *can’t* fight the virus and support the economy economy at the same time. (“It’s too expensive.”) At the end of all this, most people are resigned to their fate.

        1. Basil Pesto

          I note that Qantas now offer complimentary masks to all passengers, though they’re not compulsory.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          American provided masks and required passengers to wear masks on the flight. From what I could tell (these were pretty short flights, <2 hours), the passengers for the most part complied on the flight proper, save the notable exception of the pilot seated next to me.

          The issue is :

          1. The terminals

          2. The airport and airline staff

      2. PlutoniumKun

        To be honest, I don’t think any of your points really are relevant to airlines. Wearing a mask (crew and passengers) and adherence to basic hygiene rules should be as simple and direct as all the other safety regulations on an airline.

        Crew wear a uniform, because thats the company rule. Nobody, including Unions, would object if a staff member is disciplined because they decided they’d rather wear a t-shirt and jeans. So should wearing a mask at all times be the rule except when absolutely necessary to remove it. Passengers must sit and belt up when instructed. I have never seen anyone refuse this instruction. They should likewise be instructed to wear a mask when sitting and moving in an airline during an epidemic. It’s not really all that complicated.

        To give a practical example, in the early days of mobile phones, there were real concerns that they could interfere with flight controls. There wasn’t proof, just a worry of a potential accident. Crew were then trained to deal with people using phones in an unauthorised way very firmly – I once witnessed a stubborn women refuse to turn her phone off on take off when requested – the stewardess addressed with her in a beautifully stern manner that (almost) left me feeling sorry for that woman. She most certainly didn’t try that again, she was a model passenger for the rest of the trip. I really don’t see why this can’t apply to basic hygiene on a flight, even if it turns out in the long run that its unnecessary.

        1. vlade

          There is an added screening at the boarding desk too – “please put your mask on, and keep it on”. “No mask? Sorry, we can’t board you.” They are trained not to board you w/o id, so how different is it w/o a mask? Denied boarding w/o mask is simple to do, and perfectly legal.

          Also, the crews are trained to deal with unruly (i.e. drunk) passengers. The main problem is if your lack of compliance would be widespread – i.e. the crew can reasonable deal with 3-4 problem passengers (all who fly a bit have seen it). They can’t deal if the whole plane decides to drop the masks once in air – short of the captain cutting the oxygen and dropping the masks..

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            As indicated in the post, the issue was not the passengers. It was the staff.

            In fact, I saw one woman at the airplane door unmasked and the attendant said she had to wear one to board, gave it to her, and she put it on. So that part is working more or less.

      3. vlade

        I don’t know. I believe it’s also very much cultural and trust-based.

        In the CZ, which was one of the first places to mandate masks, the masks spread really quickly.

        There was a “problem” few weeks back, but it was really not about masks, but use indoors vs outdoors. Where the public didn’t see much point for outdoors, especially where no-one was around (which has been justified by the science by now).

        Now masks are mandated only on public transport, enclosed spaces, and some other places (such as waiters in restaurants). I’d say that the compliance is runing close 100% (althought the “nose over mask” is seen quite often).

        Now, Czechs are pretty good at bending or ignoring rules that ‘inconveniece’ them, having plenty of cultural experience from the communist regime (where it was almost impossible to obey all laws/rules, as there were often contradictory. On purpose.). There was fear, but given how many Czechs went for their skying holidays in North Italy in late Feb, I’d say it’s not the driving force.

        IMO the driving force for the widespread adoption and maintenance of the masks was really simple – all the elites (political, cultural, sport..) adopted them without exception, at once. There was literally no “he/she didn’t have a mask” scandal, the press had to do with some homeless examples for that (even for social distancing there were two high-profile cases of breaking the law, but not for masks). The masks were, literally overnight, everywhere. Even the billboards seemed to be repainted over few days to have masked models/politicians..

        So it can be done quickly – but not when the public sees very public “one rule for me, one rule for thee” approach.

        1. Clive

          The “why can’t we have a better culture” plea is very valid and completely understandable (whomest amongst us haven’t said, probably at least once a week “why won’t our culture do… X..?” — I know I certainly have).

          But ultimately it’s an “… and I want a pony” demand which we can perfectly validly make but we can’t either deliver for ourselves or guarantee that we can get others to deliver for us. I’m not sure if you’ve ever visited Japan, but it’s no surprise to me at all that mask protocol adherence is good there. At junctions and intersections where pedestrians can cross (e.g. where there’s a “STOP” sign for vehicular traffic), you get a pedestrian light showing when it’s safe to cross and when it isn’t, accompanied by a cute chirrupy bird noise for the visually impaired. Japanese pedestrians customarily wait patiently if the “don’t cross” light is showing and the chirrupy noise is sounding. They wait patiently on the sidewalk until the light has changed. They wait patiently even if there isn’t a vehicle in sight and would be clearly visible if approaching.

          It amused me for months until I got used to it — there you’d all stand — sometimes on your own (yes, you did it even if not-one was watching), sometimes in a group which might gather — all waiting happily for the light to change and the little birdy noise to stop. With not a car to be seen. Then when the light changed, there you’d all go, carefully crossing the (deserted) road.

          Can you see the average American doing that? No, me neither. If you tried to tell a typical Londoner they shouldn’t cross because the “don’t cross” light was showing, you’d get a strange look and maybe (okay, probably) a four-letter-word for you trouble. This is just how these respective societies “work”.

          Do I wish that the UK (and US too, readers there can correct me if needed) would be much more group-focussed and rule-aware and rule-adherent? Yes sir’ee. Will my wishing make it so? No.

          And I hate to say it, but one thing which puts off unconvinced people from changing their behaviour is being whined at by disapprovers. It really is counterproductive. And I don’t see why it’s worth the energy. If an argument has been won — and there’s a general societal acceptance and adherence to a behavioural change — then there’s widespread compliance with the estimable change being sought. So what’s the problem? But if the argument hasn’t been won — and it needs to be won, otherwise people won’t comply — in a couple of months of making it, it’s unlikely that it will be won by continuing to follow the approach which has hitherto been tried. So you need a new approach. The only one I can see working — and it is a big, long-term task, is education.

          Here in the UK, BBC is trying to get masks slipped into everything and there’s similar other nudge theory measures being tried. It simply isn’t going to work — certainly not if my trip into my town just now to go to the supermarket is anything to go by. I must have seen two hundred people while walking and in the store. I saw three people wearing a mask.

          1. vlade

            I know that when I say “I wish the UK/US had a better culture” it’s a pony wishing. But your post wasn’t explicitly about the UK/US, it was in response to the airlines, and how you see the mask stuff can be implemented.

            My point was exactly that – that the UK/US culture (which includes the calous behaviour of its elites even beyond most of the other countries) is a problem. Or rather, that where some cultural norms still exist, the solution is much simpler. I find it hard to believe for example that in most of the European countries any non-trivial part of the population (not commited to an mental institution already) would be willing to entertain an idea of a flat Earth. In the US, it seems perfectly normal.

            And I’ll keep going on saying that the top (political, cultural and sport) very much defines the culture of the society, and that the change _has_ to start there. Because, I hate to say it, when people see “one rule for me, one for thee”, they _will_ behave accordingly.

            1. Clive

              Airlines and airline passengers don’t exist and operate in some compartmentalised segregated societal cul-du-sac. They are just as much a product of our cultures and subject to influence by cultural and behavioural backgrounds as anyone else. So the cultural mood-music will determine what airline staff, airline management and airline passengers think is acceptable and unacceptable — and what they will do, if anything, about what’s unacceptable. In a conformist society people will conform, whether in the street or on an aircraft. In a non-conformist society, people will seek to subvert rules they don’t agree with or think don’t apply to them.

              In my view, asking (or hoping) for beneficial changes to be inspired by or brought about by the leadership class is a losing proposition when it comes to public health. The only public health changes I’ve ever seen which have had meaningful, lasting positive impacts have been bottom-up led changes (drug and alcohol awareness and treatment initiatives designed and informed by peer support, HIV prevention campaigns and measures defined by and often implemented by patient groups) not top-down inspired. And every attempt I’ve ever seen to jump straight to getting imposed public health behavioural change out of people (or trying to nag them into it) has ended, in the long term, in failure in western societies — as evidenced by the “oh, I’ll just cover my mouth, it’s okay now if I keep my nose exposed” alternative mask-wearing “protocol” which is emerging. Or this little treasure: https://metro.co.uk/2020/05/04/woman-cuts-hole-face-mask-easier-breathe-12650146/

              Education, consensus building and public debate are the only way through this.

              1. vlade

                The campaigns you describe (drug and alcohol awareness and treatment initiatives designed and informed by peer support, HIV prevention campaigns and measures defined by and often implemented by patient groups) are pretty hard to be supported by actions rather than words from top down.

                Measures like biking (hello Mr. Johnson), masks and other simple and visible actions make measurable impact on the public when the elites (again, political cultural and sport – ie. all the media-visible personalities) are seen acting on them, not just doing the talking.

                We’re social animals who want to conform, most of us do what we see other people doing, and perceived “influencers” are importan in this.

                And I’d not really call the UK culture “non-comformist”. It comforms differently than Japan, to different norms, but it’s not non-comformist by a long shot.

                1. Redlife2017


                  If all the senior members of the government put masks on and it was made into “the thing to do”, I am pretty sure that Brits would do it. The UK is very conformist as well – that’s actually why they love people when they are “eccentric”. (We “eccentric” people get away with everything that a normal Brit can’t.) The mixed signals given by the government are a big reason why people aren’t masking up.

                  And of course there would be people who wouldn’t…but the tut tutting they would get would be enough to get most people in line. After all people for months were following the social distancing and socialising rules – until Dom Cummings didn’t. And all hell has broken loose…

              2. Harry Shearer

                Maybe you’re too young to remember polio shots. That was a top-down movement that substantially improved public health. But–it had a media-anointed Public Saint, Dr. Salk, as the face of the policy.

      4. Antagonist Muscles

        Let’s assume that Yves’s mask wearing exhortations fall into Clive’s third category: education.

        For the safety of the population and for Yves’s sanity, I sincerely hope the insistence on mask wearing helps convince people to mask up. I remember reading in one of Atul Guwande’s books where he wrote about Dr. Semmelweis, the doctor who first theorized that pathogens were transmitted from sick (or dead) patients to the hands of the doctors and then back to other patients. Semmelweis abrasively waited at the sink, watching his fellow doctors wash their hands, and his colleagues hated him for this. Things didn’t end well for Semmelweis, but his hand washing theory was revolutionary.

        If you repeat something, your temperament matters greatly. I have had my own transgressions with “friends” who became explosively angry at me because I told them to not do something that was unhealthy. Clearly, I am unsophisticated in the art of persuasion. Sophisticated practitioners can repeat something and get you to believe that idea was actually your own – as is unfortunately the case for some propaganda.

  2. Charles 2

    A mask is efficient when ,
    A : expired air really goes through the mesh to catch droplets, not passing through the side,
    B : the mesh is good enough to actually catch droplets.
    A & B are somehow contradictory: the better the filtration, the higher the pressure differential must be, and therefore the higher the likelihood that expired air will leak through the edges. This is probably why some fabric masks feel more comfortable and seem to leak less from the side : it is simply because they don’t filter much through the fabric itself !

    Additionally, when the edge has to fit the face around the nose, it is even harder to prevent side leaks because tightness is not ensured be tension of the straps, but by the rigidity of the nose fitting armature. So when air is expelled from the mouth, a mask tightly covering the mouth only can actually be more efficient than a mask loosely covering nose and mouth.
    If we add to this that nasal expiration is not producing droplet above detectable background level (Cf the Lancet article referenced in NC regarding laser tracking of droplets), uncovering the nose can actually lead to better filtration of expiratory droplets than covering it !

    Also uncovered nose mask wearing may lead to higher adoption of mask wearing because it is more confortable : 90% people covering their mouth only is better than 60% of people covering mouth and nose and 40% of people covering nothing.

    All this to say that Optimal mask wearing prescription is less simple than it seems.

    1. Stephen the Tech Critic

      As I understand it, the (hypothesized) primary benefit of mask wearing is to stop larger droplets which are less likely to follow the air stream as it is redirected towards the leaks at the edges. Instead they maintain forward momentum after they are expelled and are captured by the material.

      “If we add to this that nasal expiration is not producing droplet above detectable background level”

      That’s just one study, and “detectable background level” is exactly what it says it is and pertains to the particular detection method they used. Even assuming that the minimum detection level of their methods is well-characterized and that the procedures were carried out competently, the minimum detection level may still be much higher than is required for transmission. More research is probably needed.

      Covering one’s nose with a mask may also reduce touching of one’s own nose and spreading through contact surfaces.

    2. vlade

      re A) – redirecting the airflow to the sides can have still very significant effect in spread of the droplets.

      B) despite being not intuitive, when you cough, the physics (specifically the surface tension forces) mean that most of fluid expelled is in relatively _large_ droplets. Creating smaller droplets is energy intensive, and there’s only a limited amount of energy in each cough. This in Table two shows that a vast majority of droplets are >50 micro m (close to about 80% of the count, and VASTLY more on the actual volume, as a sphere with half the radius will have 12.5% of the volume of the unit sphere). So you don’t really need super-dense fabric. Multi-layer 60 thread cotton will do pretty well.

      As you say towards the end, the point isn’t to catch everything. The point is to reduce the viral load. If a home-made mask can reduce the viral load by 50% (and the evidence shows it’s likely even better), that is a very significant improvement in dealing with the infection.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      Please stop spreading disinformation.

      The point of a mask is not to protect you. It is to protect others from you, and it is pretty effective at that if worn properly, as in over the nose and mouth, enough to significantly reduce disease spread. Look at the results in Asian countries, or as vlade described, in the Czech Republic, where the combination of an early lockdown and a high level of mask wearing resulted in a low level of disease.

      1. Charles 2

        For the avoidance of doubt if you have any, I am writing this comment (and other comments in general) without a single ounce of sarcasm and full respect for the hard work you put on this site. Reasoned disagreement on any issue should not be construed as disrespect for you as a person. Hopefully, I would expect reciprocity in this matter.

        1) my entire comment above was about expired air, so was 100% about protecting others.

        2) I live in the hot tropical part of Asia and I can tell you that “ritual” mask wearing there (I.e. not covering the nose and not even covering the mouth) is as common as in US airports. The reason is simple : heat makes mask wearing so uncomfortable that people don’t comply or comply intermittently (which involves touching a mask soaked with breathing droplets repeatedly to put it on and off, and then happily touching surfaces everywhere !). It is especially the case for workers who experience even a modicum of physical exertion. For me, it is a problem as a mask that is not worn is 0% efficient, and a mask that is repeated touched is a disease vector. I find that I have more success telling people “at least wear it on the mouth and don’t touch it until you’re home” than just “wear your mask”.
        What we need is efficient mask wearing until a vaccine is found, which will be certainly months and possibly years. For this, one needs to focus willpower on the highest efficiency/effort ratio measures.
        At the risk of repeating myself, it is a long distance race not a sprint.

        1. Lambert Strether

          > For me, it is a problem as a mask that is not worn is 0% efficient, and a mask that is repeated touched is a disease vector.

          For me, the fine points of individual mask wearing are not the point. The point is that if collectively the population masks up sufficiently — i.e., aggregating the outliers who wear masks imperfectly — the virus can be beaten, as both Hong Kong and Czechoslovakia show.

          As far as the “hot tropical part” of Asia, I don’t know where exactly you live. I know from discussion with my personal network that at least one large Asian city is masked up in public areas like malls, public transportation, and even food courts when not eating approaching 90%, and that people who “meet the public” like taxi drivers, food cart operators, and salespeople/cashiers it approaches 100%. Mask-wearing is not a middle class phenomenon but penetrates through the working class as well. There’s an enormous amount of construction going on, and so masks were already pretty common for PM2.5 particles. The construction workers themselves would find masks uncomfortable indeed when working, but they wrap their heads in scarves in any case. This country has had an excellent record on the virus.

          I don’t have personal knowledge of Jakarta for example. Perhaps it’s different.

    4. Charles 2

      @vlade & STC
      If big droplets are the issue, covering the nose is not significantly useful, this is more an argument against covering the nose than for it.

  3. Biologist

    Also, airlines and their personnel are used to safety measures, and instructing passengers to comply. Air cabin personnel have authority to tell people to stay in their seat, but their seat belt on, etc, so the “compliance infrastructure” is already there. It’s really not that hard.

    I can’t find the link now but over the last months there were a couple of mobile phone-filmed reports of people flying from Europe to Asia (mainly China), and the Asian airlines were absolutely insistent that everyone wear masks, all the time except eating. Personnel as well. This in contrast with British Airways. I wonder how other European airlines are doing this in practice (as opposed to what their web pages say they are doing).

    More generally I’m surprised about the lack of masking in workplaces–speaking about UK btw. Workplaces are starting to open up, and part of that is endless health & safety risk assessments. When it comes to masking it’s “you can use them if you personally feel more comfortable with it” like it’s some kind of personal religious accessory, but they’re absolutely not mandatory. We’re talking indoor working spaces here. The reason? The government doesn’t mandate them. The same government that has redefined “being behind the curve” with 40-60k deaths as a result, depending on your accounting method.

    1. Redlife2017

      UK mask usage is pretty poor. I’ve noted to my work that I won’t feel comfortable if everyone else isn’t wearing a mask (the Mothership firm of my smaller firm looks like they will insist on masking-up, so I might luck out and not be killed by the monsters I work for). But as you note, since the government has given out conflicting signals and refuses to mandate mask usage in workplaces, then firms have an out on it. It’s mandated on the tube, but, of course, the government isn’t handing out masks to people to use. No, of course not. They are using volunteers to tell people to wear masks…and then not giving them any. Yes, this will work /sarc.

      Recently I was on a video conference with the managers at my level and one of the managers had a lot of talking in the background. I asked him if it was his kids – no, it was his cleaners. I then said “Are you providing PPE for them?”. Stoney silence. I then discussed why it was a good idea (my public heath announcement for the week). More silence. Working class people have little access to PPE (affordable or not, as it’s literally not available in poorer areas) and the Tory eugenicists don’t care. Grrr.

      So, due to the stupid I am having to buy disposable masks and hand them out to people, along with re-usable cloth masks that I’m making (happy with my design, finally) and small bottles of good alcohol handgel. I’ve also given out surgical gloves. I am basically going to be a one-man army of PPE to as many people as I can and encourage as many people as I can (like good mask usage, giving any PPE they have to working class people like cleaners, etc.). Maybe I will keep someone from getting sick…

      1. Biologist

        >I am basically going to be a one-man army of PPE to as many people as I can and encourage as many people as I can (like good mask usage, giving any PPE they have to working class people like cleaners, etc.). Maybe I will keep someone from getting sick…
        That’s wonderful!

  4. VietnamVet

    Airline Executives are like owners of nursing homes. Both have convinced themselves that they personally have no liability (no chance of jail time) for the infection of their customers and patients by the novel coronavirus. Safety compliance needs leadership and real money. In addition, pandemic messaging is totally contradictory. Officials downplayed the importance of face masks since the national PPE stockpile was grossly inadequate to supply medical workers let alone the public.

    I don’t see state governors re-imposing lockdowns unless the hospital systems get so overwhelmed in the new hotspots that the rich and managerial class can’t get medical care. Then the states will have to do something locally. Most American states are not up to the job and have not knocked down the curve. The lackadaisical wearing of face masks at Charlotte airport is an indication why North Carolina’s number of new coronavirus cases is in the red – steadily climbing upward with no dips.

    The federal public health system has collapsed. The haphazard reopening in the face of a pandemic, the protests, the economic depression, and the Democrats failure to address the issues (but the mis-leadership does find time to kneel for nine minutes in black identity defining Kente Cloths) are all extremely dangerous for America’s future.

    You are on your own. The only viable scheme is to stay at home, if possible, and limit exposure to others for as long as is possible and pay through the nose for a vaccine if it ever becomes available. Americans are at real risk from the pandemic, job loss and the failure of government. This has to fuel the unrest and denial at the same time.

    1. TimH

      My thinking too. The airlines want flying to be not unpleasant so build traffic up. So !@#$ passengers who won’t wear masks are tolerated. However, no excuse for the employees.

    2. Alex Cox

      Regarding liability, did you notice how, 2 or 3 decades ago, the airlines stopped addressing travellers as passengers, and called them ‘customers’ instead?

      Carriers have a duty of care to their passengers. ‘Customers’ can always choose a different airline, or take the bus.

    3. False Solace

      The US is in a truly depressing situation with regard to masks.

      The original messaging to the public was mendacious and shamed people who wanted to mask up. “You’d better not wear a mask because there’s a shortage. If you wear one you’ll scare our other employees/consumers.” Since then the messaging has flipflopped. The messengers lack integrity as well as the appearance of it. There’s natural resistance.

      Even worse, we have an artificial political divide that gives cover to half the population based on their tribe. They have permission from the highest authorities to engage their guts instead of their brains. That’s a great way to ensure the disease continues to spread. They downplay the disease’s severity, ignoring the effect on the health compromised, hoping to drum up the economy. Permanently denting multiple industries while tossing our elders into the mouths of Moloch.

      One struggles to imagine a worse scenario.

  5. The Rev Kev

    A rather unnerving trip that. It kinda resembles the wariness of a trip through I.E.D. Alley on the way to Baghdad airport back during the Occupation. I suppose the truth of the matter is that as far as masks are concerned, that there is no policy in place about them which explains what you saw. So American might announce that everybody on one of their planes must wear a mask but you just know that someone like Delta would say that they believe in individual rights and so it is up to customers to decide for themselves. Tough luck for American then.

    It should be someone like the FAA requiring masks for everybody but they won’t as they would cop too much flak from Trump over it and would be left twisting in the wind. When Trump went across the road to St. John for that publicity stunt, I noted that I did not see a single mask in what was a very large group that worked in the White House. So you will not see a mandatory policy in the US about masks aboard planes because of one man’s obstinancy. What should be the policy?

    For a start, no mask-no fly and that means everyone. Pilots or stewardesses caught without a mask should be suspended which will hit their pay packets. On the spot fines for those staff who wear them improperly such as having their schnozes sticking out. No exception. You either do it this way or else mandate that every passenger signs a legal waiver for that airline if they catch Coronavirus from one of their flights. No inbetween which I think is rough but fair.

  6. Larry

    My suburban Boston town recently held an in person town meeting. It had to be held in person due to our form of town government requiring a quorum of 100 voters to take action on certain warrants, and there were several essential ones dealing with budget and infrastructure. The town held the meeting in a high school auditorium with social distance and all side doors open. Ushers brought us to our seats and spaced us at least 6 feet apart. Mask wearing was mandatory and masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer were available for those that did not have it. And while the public mostly complied, several selectman and committee members either wore no mask or had it hanging below their chins. This directly sends a message to the public that they did not think it was important. One selectman even chose to address the crowd without a microphone, essentially yelling at the crowd without a mask. This was infuriating given the measures put in place to ensure that this public meeting could happen with minimal risk.

    I think what we are witnessing is compliance fatigue. So many people are far removed from horrific front lines or the personal experience of major outbreaks, like in NYC. The reality is just too distant for them to believe. Combine this with many conservatives seeing liberal, crowded protests in every city in the US and you have the perfect storm to say nobody is going to enforce distancing, so why should I?

  7. jackiebass

    It’s not just flying but almost everywhere that there is laced compliance in mask wearing. My wife recently had to go to the emergency room and was eventually admitted to the hospital. Since there were only 4 people in the waiting rom they allowed men to take a seat in the waiting room. On the far side from me were two correction guards and a shackled prisoner. The guards would frequently push their mask down for a shot period of time. Then a scruffy looking young adult came out of the emergency room. He didn’t have a mask on. He sat down about 12 feet away from me and began to play with his phone. I expected someone to quickly pounce on him about his lack of a mask. It didn’t happen. So I addressed him. I said young man there are masks on that table a short distance away. You can take one and put it on. I also said if you don’t want to wear a mask would you please wait outside. He wen’t outside. I shouldn’t have to be a police man but for my personal safety , I realized I had to do something.In the grocery store on more than one occasion the check out person was wearing a mask but not correctly. They seem to think that it isn’t important to cover their nose. I’ve had to remind them that the mask should also cover you nose. I went to a pizza place to pick up a pizza. Only one person was wearing a mask. So my observation is that following safety practices is generally very lacked. It will result in a disaster when everything opens up again I live in upstate NY which has strict standards so this means that even with strict standards people act in an irresponsible manner. When the state totally reopens , I’m going to continue my present behavior. I’ll sit back and observe what happens. I suspect it won’t be a pretty picture.

  8. carl

    I see this everywhere I go. People pretending to wear masks or nothing at all. The “it’s my rights” crowd is really strong in Texas, going all the way up to the governor. This virus has exposed us not to be a serious people. The USA is not a serious country.

    1. jackiebass

      When NY banned smoking in public places the it’s my right argument was frequently used by smokers. I’m a non smoker so I would say what about my rights? They would then say I hold stay home. My response was if the needed to smoke they school stay home. That seem to end the discussion with most. It took a year before people didn’t complain about the smoking ban. The my right people are also usually the me only people. It worries me that more and more people only think about themselves. You can’t even have a sane discussion on a topic anymore. People are so polarized it’s frighting.

  9. ObjectiveFunction

    I guess we will soon see whether this laxity is reflected in caseloads.

    In Singapore kids have returned to school, but otherwise you are still only supposed to leave your home for essential tasks (including exercise and dog walking). You must stay masked outside your home unless vigorously exercising (some people do interpret that a little broadly I notice). You must also code in and out of nearly all public spaces, including parks, for contact tracing purposes. They’ll soon be issuing badges to make that tracking automatic, oh joy!

    Private and public gatherings remain banned; there’s a bit of a grey area still for workplaces, but most folks (myself included) are still working remotely.

    A first mask violation is theoretically punishable by a SGD300 fine. In practice that only seems to be imposed if you are flagrant, or make a scene when challenged. But nearly everyone complies; the few violators I see tend to be Westerners, but even they don’t flout the law in public spaces.

  10. Kevin Hall

    On Superfund and other hazmat sites, I’ve seen OSHA 40 hour trained guys lift APRs in the hot zone to spit tobacco or puff a cigarette. Those were the ones that you knew not to work around as they were more likely to get you injured or worse.

    So I’m not surprised that the general public, with little education or discipline, fail to use PPE properly on a consistent basis. Recognize that they are part of the hazard that must be compensated for to make it back home at the end of the day.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      As indicated in the post and in comments, the issue was not the passengers, who seemed pretty compliant in the plane proper. My beef is with the airline and airport terminal/airport shop employees. Mask wearing in the terminal areas and by some of the airlines staff on the plane was poor, and these staffers of all people have a stake in reassuring the public and in modeling so as to get people flying again. Instead, too many act like they can’t be bothered.

  11. Even in New York...

    …many people are not wearing masks. The only explanations I can come up with are a) compliance fatigue + b) people are stupid. To expand on “b,” it’s not that they’re stupid stupid (although many are), I believe it’s due to widespread scientific illiteracy. People really don’t understand anything to do with logical causes and effects, nor do they “get” that there are airborne particles you can’t see.

    Tangential but pertinent to this latter point (viz, widespread scientific illiteracy): If you asked the questions “What is the difference between a molecule and an atom?” or “What is the difference between a substance (say, plastic or steel) and an element?” I think it’s fair to say 99% of any sample of people out on the street that you ask would not know the answers.

  12. DJG

    What’s grimly ironic here is that the interviews with Fauci being published this morning quote him saying that international travel sped the infection. So you’d think that the airlines would be concerned about being vectors for infection. But we all know that U.S. airports were / are filthy, that the TSA checkpoints are grimy and filthy (who knows about the x-ray booth…), and that U.S. domestic flights are too closely scheduled to be cleaned properly. Further, the U.S. federal departments now are paralyzed by the malign incompetence of the Monoparty.

    People above talk about culture. What I see is fetishization. In the U.S. of A., the Second Amendment has helped to fetishize guns. Now we can add “freedom to not wear masks” to the amendment, too.

    Here in Chicago, I note that dogwalkers have uniformly dispensed with masks. More use of the fetish, the dog, as a magical object. So the dog is now the equivalent of open carry, I suppose.

    This morning, with the streets empty around my apartment, the man across the street, maskless, did the usual business of letting the dog strain at the leash toward me. This is followed by the weak, It’s okay. Dog friendly.

    I signaled for the jamoke to get out of the way.

    So I’d say: Think vectors, profitability, and fetishes.

    1. Dwight

      Amazon has “Don’t Tread on Me” masks. I want to add “I’m Trying Not to Tread on You, so”

  13. ChrisFromGeorgia

    Thanks for the report. It was not clear to me whether the TSA made you remove your mask when you presumably went through the metal detector/scanner.

    What does it matter if the airlines enforce mask discipline, yet you have to take your mask off for a bit while crammed in with thousands of other fliers in a security line? Not a huge issue yet with airline traffic still at 20% or less of what it was, but what happens when the public starts wanting to fly again?

    And yes, those bins are filthy.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, on on one my TSA checks, the agent let me keep my mask on, he said he could see I was the person in my drivers’ license from my eyes. The other two I have encountered thus far made me take my mask off to look at my face and let me put it right back on. You most assuredly can wear it past the point where they look at your ID and boarding pass.

  14. Carolinian

    Just curious–if you had N95 masks wouldn’t wearing one take care of the mentioned concerns? If they are good enough for medical professionals then presumably they would do the same for air travel.

    I was in the local Walmart yesterday and hardly anyone had on a mask other than the employees and not even all of them. But of course this isn’t the same as being housed in a metal tube for a couple of hours. I believe studies now show that the likelihood of getting the disease while shopping is very low.

    1. Thomas Jennings

      You do get that in order to properly receive the benefits of an N95 you have to be “fit-tested” right? And no, not all N95s are not the same. For example, my wife had to be fit-tested for 3 different brands/types of N95 at the hospital. Further, she works at a prestigious mega hospital in NYC which has been mostly very good in equipping their employees with PPE, and she has to use the N95 until some undetermined time in the future where it is no longer safe to use; so even now the supply of N95s is not sufficient. The idea that if you want some semblance of safety to go to a store for basic needs you to need to rob an N95 from a hospital worker that has to intubate COVID patients rather than mandate the use of cloth masks (with penalties for not wearing one) for all citizens when in public is a very special type of idiocy. If my 2 year old can wear a cloth mask everyday when out in public so can everyone else.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      A properly fitted n95 mask makes it hard to breathe. I probably should have put mine on with the errant pilot but there is a process with fitting and fit testing them (there are videos showing how to fit test your mask and adjust).

      1. RMO

        If I had to deal with crowds full of people who weren’t masked (and couldn’t keep distance) I would be tempted to use the respirator mask I own (for painting, working with chemicals – these days I use it mostly for when I’m mixing the lye and water to make soap). It is fitted, it is comfortable, it is easy to breathe through, the P100 pre-filters are even more effective than N95’s and are followed with organic vapor filter cartridges. Of course it has an exhalation valve so it would fail at the task of preventing the wearer from transmitting to others but if the people around me obviously didn’t give a rat’s rectum about infecting others…

        Fortunately I haven’t needed to fly and people where I live are still being good about distancing and mask wearing even though my Province has been down to 24-hour period new-case numbers in the single digits (as low as 0 sometimes) for a while now.

        1. Edward

          This is what I do. I have a respirator I bought about 25 years ago. It does restrict airflow to some extent and is a bit uncomfortable. The straps have to be tight or the air will leak around the sides.

  15. iamcynic

    I take a different approach.I constantly lecture non-masked people that if they really care about opening up commerce sooner,they’d wear a mask. Because I have the ability to print on a mask,my mask says “Open Up Sooner,Wear A Mask”. This makes them think.They can’t counter that argument.
    For a lot of those unmasked,it’s a political statement pushed by the President and many Republicans.I’ve found the statement about opening the economy sooner turns the argument around.They can’t comfortably make the opposite assertion. Admittedly this won’t completely solve the airline situation , but I’ve found it does make a difference.In a way it’s educational.

    1. Thomas Jennings

      I live in area of Jersey City, NJ (which by some measures is the most diverse city in the USA and firmly a Democrat stronghold) where there is a high concentration of middle aged liberals and where the pandemic has been particularly severe. It is an extremely dense city so wearing a mask when outdoors on the street is a necessity. What I can tell you is that the people that I see not wearing masks when out walking around (or as Yves mentions, wearing them incorrectly or wearing them around their neck when not mandated to wear them in a store) are affluent upper class Trump-hating “resistance” types. Are these types mostly brain dead boot lickers? Yes, but while they lack a functioning brain, they don’t lack an education. In fact most of them are probably over-educated. So, the no mask crowd is definitely bi-partisan.

      1. iamcynic

        Are you sure that the “affluent upper class” is Trump-hating? I invite you to Trump country.I live here.I recently watched a sample of nearly one hundred people coming out of a grocery store. Only 5 wore masks.I think what we’re worried about is the “poorly educated” who Trump professes to love so much. And poorly educated does not necessarily mean poor. The “liberal elites” that I know here all wear masks and social distance and fly often(although not recently). I actually know and talk to people in both groups.I’m not speculating.Believe me….not wearing masks is in no way bi-partisan.The guy rebuilding my porch…a well off contractor who’s been to college…said to me “are you another f’n Democrat?…when I asked him to wear a mask.I guess out here people are just more open about their beliefs.

    2. rowlf

      The tricky Republican governor of Georgia, who is pretty much what you would get if you called central casting to ask for a southern politician with a regional accent that would give everyone the vapors, said these statements in a press conference Thursday May 28:

      “We strongly encourage all Georgians and visitors to wear face coverings in public to help mitigate viral spread,” said Kemp, “Restrictions remain intact for nearly every Georgia business to keep employees and their customers safe.”
      “Wash your hands, keep your distance, wear a mask if possible, and protect the elderly and medically fragile from exposure.”

      It’s probably a trap. I also worry about the below link since they published the transcript of the press conference instead of doing like the Atlanta newspaper and translating it for us lay people.

  16. Louis Fyne

    apologies for the image….reportedly fecal transmission was/is a big vector in China. And I imagine worldwide as well. so about that airplane lavatory, eck.

    and as everyone knows, everyone does not wash after using the loo—-many just cursorily get their hands wet, when you gotta scrub, scrub, scrub w/soap.

    good thing i don’t have to fly anytime soon! and i certainly would prefer driving for 12 hours than flying over that distance

  17. doug

    My sightings suggest that the US won’t have much success in combatting coronavirus absent a treatment, a vaccine, or a massive PR campaign to change attitudes

    I see the same here in north carolina. Folks are becoming more casual as the numbers rise. Humans are not rational.

  18. False Solace

    I flew March 13th through Orlando on Delta. It was early days for the virus and no passengers wore PPE. I would have canceled the trip if there had been any cases in my home state, but the day I left there were 0. Same for Orlando. The same was not true on my return.

    Later I found out 3 of the TSA agents working the checkpoint I passed through were infected at the time.

    All those people who look around themselves and don’t see the virus so don’t take preventive measures are the ones enabling it to spread. You don’t know at the time who’s infected. You only find out when it’s too late. I can’t believe the sociopathy and stupidity of our political class. I hope God has mercy on our country, but we don’t deserve any.

  19. Cuibono

    Friend flew on a recent flight from Texas to Honolulu American Airlines. Not only worthy flight crew not wearing masks but he counted 5 people on the plane in masks.

    I’m moving to Japan

    1. Clive

      This is just the sort of situation amenable to grass roots direct action. By action, I don’t mean going round and trying to hassle everyone on the plane into donning a face covering. I mean citing why it is important to you (you’ve got at-risk dependents you live with, you have an occupation which means you can’t be a COVID-19 infection source, you’ve got OCD, you’ve got a fear of flying and this makes it worse — anything just so long as it is genuine, not made up and is, for you, authentic.)

      Ask the flight attendant if you can make an appeal or if they can make an appeal for you.

      A warning: you’ll probably get refused. Or, even if you get your request granted, you’ll probably only get patchy adherence.

      The point, though, isn’t to “win”. It is to be a real, live human being presenting a real, live human need and — and this is the important bit — being not only willing to stand up for what you think is right and the right things to do but also be willing to confront your fears of rejection and your possible anger / annoyance or whatever other emotion you’ll have if you don’t get your way then and there. It isn’t just this one action that will be effective. It won’t even be your 10th attempt at this action. It will take your efforts combined with the dozens of actions of a thousand thousand other people’s actions, big and small.

      The problem in all of the above (and I’ve read every comment so far here and respect all the views expressed) is that there is a lack of trust in others and lack of faith in the ability of others to hear your needs and help — voluntarily, of people’s own volitions — meet them that is at the root of so many of our ills today. Running away and hiding won’t work. The people with HIV in the 1980’s couldn’t run away, they didn’t have the time left to do that. The chemically dependent desperate for recovery I’ve known couldn’t hide forever. Neither group could wait for everyone else to do what they needed or wanted — and they couldn’t simply sit there forever and fester in their resentments, either.

      Yes, it takes courage. Yes, you have to be prepared to fail, fail and fail again. Yes, you have to be vulnerable and not be afraid to show your vulnerability and your need. Yes, you have to be willing to trust — and to see your trust betrayed or at least maybe ignored or trampled on.

      No wonder everyone is so scared. No wonder everyone is looking to externalities to make everything okay for them. I’ve certainly felt like that myself in such situations.

      Yves did this — although perhaps unwittingly — with the taxi driver. She didn’t get anywhere, by the sounds if things. But that wasn’t the point. The next person in the cab probably won’t. Or the person after that who does the same. But maybe the tenth person might. Or the hundredth person. At a personal level the failure feels real. It’s because it is real. But this is how real progress is achieved in this sort of matter.

      I hope at least some of that makes sense for you. I’m going to have to trust that it does and that you understand what I’m trying to express and why I’m trying to express it, even if imperfectly. But that’s how this stuff works.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I did this quite deliberately with that taxi driver because it’s a service I use regularly and it has only 3 drivers. I didn’t have a spare surgical mask in my purse but I do in my suitcase. I’ll carry it in my purse on the way back and make a point at the airport in the queue of insisting that the driver either have or wear one I provide.

        I do push store clerks in Alabama. The problem is I tend to get annoyed about it in places like drugstores, where FFS like the airline staff, they should know the importance and not need prompting/nagging.

      2. Cuibono

        I do appreciate this approach. At its roots it is decent, powerful and will create lasting change but i dont ever recall doing that for any other public health measure I enjoy the benefits of.
        why is that?

        1. Clive

          I think because it became politicised and, from that, all rationality and any possibility of reasoned debate inevitably vanished. It would be better if we didn’t have to start from here, but we are where we are.

  20. Edward

    “What is worse is that we have mask theater: people who wear masks in such a way that it reduces or vitiates their value”

    This is what gets me; I keep seeing politicians and others pulling off their masks when they speak into a microphone. What do they think is supposed to happen when they do this??

    The airplane websites probably invite customer comments. You might try writing them a diplomatic complaint about the situation.

      1. rowlf

        The FAA points to the CDC for guidance.

        Everyone seems to be hot potatoing setting guidelines. My company is freaking out providing PPE, sanitizing, testing and re-engineering the workplace so they aren’t held responsible for anyone getting infected. Nobody wants to be liable for an at work infection and we have unions on the property and other unions that want to get on.

  21. KFritz

    Here in Hanford CA, mask usage is spotty at best. Almost none of the bus drivers wear masks, which makes getting on the bus a scary moment. When I ask the drivers their reasons for being unmasked, the answer is almost always that it makes breathing difficult.

    For many years I sanded drywall, did plaster and drywall demolition, and mixed plaster/mica compounds wearing a tight fitting half-face respirator with organic vapor cannisters and dust filters to protect the cannisters. Those are physically demanding tasks, and unless I miss my bet, it isn’t nearly as difficult to breathe using an N-95 as a half-face respirator. I’ve managed to reach the august age of 70, despite the discomfort and oxygen deprivation of my old protective gear, so I believe that people who complain about the discomfort of an N-95 doth protest too much. If anyone has used both masks and disagrees, please read me the riot act.

    1. rowlf

      When I was doing fuel tank, chemical and paint work we had to be trained and certified every year to wear all the masks, from forced air down to N95. Part of the annual was passing a physical to wear the masks. You really wanted to get the mask fit correct as the testing was done with a saccharin scented ampule that would make you want to inject insulin if you had a leak.

      I am thankful the company did the math and made the PPE available. Other companies were stingy of gear and most of the generations of workers before me usually did not collect very many pension checks due to chemical exposures.

      Forced air was the best, as you could crank up the air to float the mask and get an air conditioning effect. Half masks wore you out unless you were in a really good paint booth. There was a super thick N95 type mask we called the blue dot due to the exhale valve that got handed out once while we were stripping paint off a 747 in a hangar. Everyone was passing out because it was so hard to breathe through the filtering material.

  22. David in Santa Cruz

    This lack of compliance is down to the collapse of the federal health system. It’s been ongoing since Carter, but Trump and the anti-science crowd provided the coup de grace. There should be a national mask-wearing mandate with an intensive TV/Social Media/print education campaign.

    I live in a university town with a county-wide mandate by the well-respected public health officer for masks in situations where social-distancing can’t be practiced. The usual students and tourists have been absent since mid-March, although we still have a steady stream of urban outdoorspersons seeking drugs imported by agricultural workers. Mask compliance is excellent. Businesses have been stationing an employee at the door, refusing entry to the un-masked and limiting the number of persons inside. I have seen hobos being physically ejected for not masking.

    Not me. Us. is the attitude in this Bernie stronghold. Most people understand that they’re not masking for themselves; the mask protects others. Even our #blacklivesmatter protesters are mask-compliant (fortunately, because they’re not social-distancing).

    I have no intention of flying anywhere for the foreseeable future. I suspect that the pressure on the industry due to the disappearance of travelers has created an atmosphere of hostility and resentment toward the general public.

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