On Monday, a federal judge in Florida ruled that the CDC mask requirement on public transportation -- including planes, trains, subways, and buses -- was illegal. The mandate, which had been in place since January 2021, meant that anyone in an airport or on an airplane had to wear a mask, or face removal and potential fines.
Judge Kathryn Kimble Mizelle, the U.S. District Court Judge for the middle district of Florida, said that the Centers for Disease Control had exceeded its authority in implementing the mask mandate. That left a degree of confusion as travelers, airlines, airports, and government agencies tried to figure out what it meant for them.
What will the airlines do? If I'm traveling later this week, do I need to wear a mask? Confusion is a problem for every business, and the way you respond says a lot about you and your company. There's a lot to unpack here, making this an interesting case study on how to communicate with your customers and stakeholders.
Late Monday, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rescinded its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment and said the mandate would no longer be enforced. Of course, just because you lift a contentious mandate doesn't mean things automatically get less contentious.
In a note to its employees, which the company shared on its blog, Delta addressed that reality and encouraged all of us to "remember to show understanding and patience with others." When you consider everything that we've all been through over the past two years, that's a pretty powerful lesson.
Here's more of what the company said:
Given the unexpected nature of this announcement, please be aware that customers, airline employees and federal agency employees -- such as TSA -- may be receiving this information at different times. You may experience inconsistent enforcement during the next 24 hours as this news is more broadly communicated -- remember to show understanding and patience with others who may not be aware enforcement is no longer required. Communications to customers and in-airport signage and announcements will be updated to share that masking is now optional -- this may take a short period of time.
First, I think it was important that Delta pointed out that this was completely unexpected. That means a lot of people aren't prepared for a sudden change. Many of those people work at or travel through airports.
As a result, I think we can all agree it's likely people will "experience inconsistent enforcement" as "news is more broadly communicated." It seems overwhelmingly certain that when people show up at the airport tomorrow, there's going to be a little confusion.
There will be TSA agents or airline employees who have spent a long time reminding travelers that masks are required. It's as much a part of the job as reminding people to remove "large electronic items and place them in a bin." It's a habit at this point.
There's a pretty good chance that if you show up at the airport tomorrow, many of the people you encounter won't have heard the news -- even people who work there. There will be passengers who aren't aware that wearing a mask is no longer required, increasing the chance of confrontation when they see people not wearing one.
Travel is already stressful enough for a lot of people. It's been even more so as travelers had to worry not just about whether they'd arrive on time or whether their bags would arrive at all, but also whether travel was safe as COVID-19 surged across the country at various times.
Then, there are airline employees who were unwittingly deputized as the, "Sir, that mask has to be covering your nose" police. As a result, they've spent months having to deal with upset passengers, some of whom behaved poorly, to say the least. Imagine how old it gets reminding adults to behave like adults.
Add to that, the fact that not everyone is paying attention to what a judge in Florida is ordering on any given day. Even in an always-connected world where we get the majority of our news on social media, it still takes time for information to get to the people who need it to do their jobs.
That's why those eight words are such a powerful lesson for all of us. How much different would almost every contentious situation be if we "remembered to show understanding and patience with others."
Certainly, travel during a pandemic would be less stressful if everyone showed a little understanding and patience. Meetings at work would probably be more productive. Even bedtime with our four young children would go more smoothly if I could be better at understanding and demonstrating patience.
Think about how many problems you could diffuse with some understanding and patience. Imagine how many upset customers you could win over by trying to really understand their issue, and by being patient -- even when they respond angrily or inappropriately.
The good news is that understanding and patience barely cost you anything. Just a little time to step back and recognize that the person you're interacting with may not be operating with all the information. They might be working off of two years of motor memory, which -- let's be honest -- is a hard thing to overcome. Just give them a little grace, and you'll be surprised how far it will go to make a better experience for both of you.