The Airline Executive Face Mask Double Standard – One Mile at a Time

What happened to the concept of leading by example?

In this post:

Airline executives flout mask rules

We’re slowly starting to see some airlines and airports remove the requirement to wear masks when traveling. Personally I’m in favor of giving people that choice at this point, as we have readily available vaccines and high quality masks for those who want to wear them.

However, I can’t help but point out the double standard that seems to exist in the industry, whereby executives decide that the rules don’t apply to them. We’ve now seen this at both Delta and Etihad over the span of just a couple of days. I wasn’t going to write about this when I saw it as a single isolated incident, but with a second one today, I can’t help but point this out in hopes of leaders doing better.

Etihad’s maskless business class cabin

Not only does the UAE require face masks on airplanes, but it’s also an explicit policy on the part of Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways:

To keep everyone protected on board, you must wear a face mask on every Etihad Airways flight.

Etihad Airways is today operating its very first Airbus A350 flight from Abu Dhabi to Paris. The business class cabin is largely full of invited media, and Etihad CEO Tony Douglas is even onboard. In pictures posted online, not only is Douglas giving a speech without wearing a mask, but seemingly none of the passengers are wearing masks either.

Presumably if a passenger in economy were to not wear a mask, they’d be told to put it on by the crew. Meanwhile when the boss is onboard, that rule no longer applies. It also seems so out of touch to me to do this when there’s so much media onboard, and when you know pictures are going to be taken. Yet (perhaps not so) oddly I haven’t seen any of the media on the flight mention anything about this…

Delta’s LAX ribbon cutting ceremony

As View from the Wing noted yesterday, Delta held a ribbon cutting at LAX on Tuesday, for its newly redesigned terminal. There were all kinds of important people in attendance, ranging from Delta CEO Ed Bastian, to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The US federal transportation mask mandate is currently in place through April 18, and is pretty explicit. In this case, the mandate specifically states the following:

Operators of transportation hubs must require all persons to wear a mask when entering or on the premises of a transportation hub. 

There are very limited exceptions, like while eating, drinking, or taking medication, for brief periods. Yet Delta’s ribbon cutting ceremony would make you believe that it was February 2019, with all kinds of executives standing just inches apart maskless while cutting a ribbon.

Similarly, speeches are given while maskless, and Garcetti even jokes about the construction workers wearing masks.

If we’re going to emphasize the importance of masks, these are two of the highest risk situations — being in very close proximity to one another (as in the ribbon cutting ceremony), and speaking (when the most respiratory aerosols are emitted).

Bottom line

Personally I hope that mask mandates for transportation end soon, and people get the choice as to whether or not they want to wear masks. That being said, for the time being we’re all stuck following the rules, and airlines continue to closely enforce these in many parts of the world… unless you’re an important executive.

The UAE and Etihad Airways require all passengers to wear masks, seemingly unless you’re the CEO, or unless you’re in business class with the CEO. Meanwhile Delta’s CEO, the Mayor of Los Angeles, and others, had no issues posing for photos (with almost no distancing) maskless, and even giving speeches without masks.

I’m not trying to take a cheap shot at these people, as I have a lot of respect for most of them. However, so many hard working frontline employees in the airline industry have had to wear masks without exception for the past two years, and this kind of behavior sends the wrong message to those people, in my opinion (especially the Etihad situation).

Is leading by example too much to ask for?

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