Inflight Masking Fight Club

Peter Van Buren
4 min readMay 29, 2022

Fulfilling family obligations in 2022 means long haul flights of long hours. By “long hours,” I mean because everything has already been on Netflix, each in-air hour is longer than others, say those that pass during on-beach massage sessions. The only thing that makes in-air time tolerable is Inflight Fight Club.

The first rule of Inflight Fight Club is you can talk about it; what else is there to do for seven hours? Yet as much fun as it is to watch someone combat it out with a flight attendant, all this is unnecessary. And for the lawyers, this article in no way condones violence in the air, whether it is the 800th passive aggressive reference to seats being in the upright and locked position with the deadly tray table closed, or something criminal.

America faces a crossroads for air travel, a reckoning as inevitable but necessary as changing planes in Atlanta. On May 3 the TSA pointlessly renewed its masking mandate which it has not been able to enforce since a court on April 18 suspended mask mandates (the Biden administration is suing for the power to enforce masking.) Airline executives, fearful of their bottom lines, have asked Joe Biden to let it all fade away. Many flight attendants, just fearful, want masking extended indefinitely, the bullying take-off-your-shoes at the airport mandate of this generation.

Leaving aside the actual logic, which says it makes no sense to be unmasked literally everywhere else, including places that have none of the protective air filtration system aircraft do, someday ending the mask mandate will be a positive step toward ending Inflight Fight Club.

Flight attendants, deep into Fight Club culture, may in advance want to chat with their bosses about the full range of Gitmo-ization available to ensure “passengers” (we’ll employ the traditional nomenclature here but the correct term is “tolerants in need of transportation”) are pre-angered long before taking their undersized seats. Drip pricing means everyone has paid something more than the old-timey cost of a ticket that will carry their lard from Cleveland to Tampa (with a stopover in Atlanta.)

Want a normal sized seat? Pay for Economy Plus. Want to sit with your spouse instead of an airsick stranger? Pay for reserved seats. Pay for a suitcase, or pay to get aboard first to join the scrum for carry-on space. And if you really want to travel “in style,” such as having access to a toilet that is not marked off with biohazard tape, you can pay double for business class where a child kicks the back of your larger seat instead of a smaller seat.

Inflight Fight Club is made much worse by the infantilization of passengers. We can’t be trusted to enjoy a drink. We can’t be trusted to buckle up. We can’t be trusted to “stow” (cynicism aside, points to the airlines for steadfastly maintaining a handful of nautical terms. Inflight Fight Club would shrivel away if the pilot said “Avast ye!” on taking off and everyone cheered) our tray table.

Our laptop, if we press CRTL+SHIFT+C+X will crash the plane unless a flight attendant stands over us to ensure that one last email check is postponed until Denver. Like kindergarten, we plead “Just two more minutes, please!” In the end only adults are allowed to stand and I swear this plane is not going anywhere, especially not recess, unless everyone takes their seats NOW!

Was it a surprise when airlines started charging crazy amounts to check luggage/and or mishandling crazy amounts of luggage so that people would bring more on board, to the point where a flight without livestock in Economy is noteworthy? For all the bullying by flight attendants, why is someone’s choice to drag aboard a full-on old IBM desktop with green CRT monitor never questioned if they call it a personal item? Why aren’t flight attendants deputized to throw cardboard boxes leaking chicken fat and bound with wire overboard instead of spending time cramming them into the overhead bins?

Instead it is some sort of game — whatever someone can MacGyver past the boarding agent the flight attendant must find room for. New rules are needed; passengers who follow the new rules would instead cheer for attendants instead of greasing up to take them mano-a-mano when the Diet Sprite runs out and all that’s left is Diet 7-Up.

That said, flight attendants, a quiet word or two for you: chill out. Statistically, none of us on board are terrorists. Realistically, none of us are going to kill you with disease (so last year!) Almost all of us just want to get home as peacefully as possible. So try “Would you please…” instead of “Sir, SIR, I need you to squat and cough, now, sir.” Be like the savvy beat cop and maybe, just maybe “accidentally” skip some enforceable thing like an old man deep asleep whom you startle awake because his seat belt is unbuckled.

I bet we all are willing to take the chance absolutely nothing will happen until we land safely. Like the tired mom standing and swaying to keep her baby quiet; let her “congregate” near the restrooms, we all promise to take out the baby if she is a terrorist. Your boss is in the cockpit so you won’t get caught. By the way, speaking of the pilot, nobody is impressed when you say “The captain asks that you…” See, we know it’s you, that the captain did not really pull you aside and say “Say, Betty, let’s have them read the safety card this flight, ‘kay sweetheart? See you tonight in O’Hara for martinis?”

Straight up: flight attendants, you’re not caught in the middle, you’re often part of the problem. It takes two to fight, unless it is Spring Break and then maybe it takes 10 or 12.

We can make this easier on all of us. Look at the room for improvement: TSA reported over 3,800 incidents in the last year involving masks alone, with 2,700 warning notices issued and over 900 civil penalties levied against passengers. Let’s once-and-for-all formally end masking.

(This article has not been submitted to the Department of Homeland Security Disinformation Board. Parental discretion is advised.)



Peter Van Buren

Author of Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan and WE MEANT WELL: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts + Minds of the Iraqi People