Taking flight: the QAnon crowd avoiding masks

Here in New Zealand, conspiracy theorists continue to be, well - arseholes


Last month, I took a flight here in New Zealand from Auckland to Palmerston North. It was short — about an hour — and we all had to wear face masks. Some brought their funky personalised masks along. Others, like myself, wore boring blue disposable ones.

We have Covid pretty much under control here in Aotearoa, but there’s a rule to wear masks on flights. And it’s something we’re happy to do. It creates a level of safety that makes passengers feel chill, and it’s just sort of this idea that we’re in this thing together. We care for each other.

Well, most of us do.

Okay, watch this guys” she says, a smug look plastered one her face. I’m watching a Facebook video of a passenger walking towards her Air New Zealand flight. She reaches the plane door, where she’s greeted by a flight attendant who asks how she is.

Heeeeey, I’m good thank you!” she replies, before following it up with “I’ve got the mask exemption!”

She’s then politely ushered onto the plane, mask-free.

She walks down the aisle to her seat, giddy with her master plan. She films all the other passengers wearing masks as she goes. A few grey-haired elderly passengers look up with concern, one asking if she can put a mask on. The smug passenger loudly replies “I’ve got an exemption”.

The passenger finds her spot and places her bag in the overhead locker, before taking her seat. And there she sits, grinning smugly at the camera for an entire two minutes, like she’s a genius that’s just solved a really difficulty morning sudoku.

Okay, so here in New Zealand — it’s very true that you can get an exemption from wearing a mask on a flight:

“Wearing a face covering during alert level 1 is mandatory in New Zealand during journeys on public transport and domestic flights but the Ministry of Health has a small number of exemptions, including children under 12, people with asthma or a disability and conditions that make wearing a face covering unsuitable.”

But the thing is — this passenger didn’t need an exemption. She was faking it, in order to prove a point. And under her Facebook live, a cacophony of support rings out for this renegade who has defeated the system:

Of course, this passenger did not give a flying fuck about the concerned elderly woman she’d passed. This wasn’t about her fellow passengers, this was about her.

Remember, here in New Zealand the first victims of COVID-19 — as in other parts of the world — were the elderly. They have a reason to be concerned for their health, even in a country that largely has Covid under control (thanks to kiwis doing things like wearing masks on public transport).

No: she was out to make a point about how we’re all “sheeple”, under control of the state. A brief look through her social media shows someone fully entrenched in the “Covid isn’t real” brigade. As well as attending for QAnon-adjacent events in New Zealand, she also stood for New Zealand’s main conspiracy theory party, Advance NZ.

She also just posted about an anti-vaccine rally in South Auckland, targeting Maori and Pacific Islander communities — communities with greater health risks than other parts of Auckland.

And it becomes pretty obvious where she got the idea to get a mask exemption, even though she didn’t need one.

Voices for Freedom is one of the “mom and pop” fronts for QAnon belief here in New Zealand, and they’re about as predictable as you’d expect. Child trafficking, ritualistic satanic abuse, and a massive conspiracy by world governments to microchip us with the mark the beast via vaccinations. Oh yeah, and they fucking hate wearing masks.

On the Voices for Freedom website, a link to the “mask exemption” form:

That conspiracy website then takes you to another page, which tells you:

“Whether you’re a regular commuter on public transport or flying domestically, be sure you know your legal rights in respect of masks. Voices For Freedom has you covered. Sign up today to get the truth about masks and link to download an exemption form and keep up to date with what we've got going on.”

Yes, to get your exemption you have to join their mailing list. If you join, you then get a smug email that includes this:

“Shortness of breath, anxiety or critical thinking are examples of conditions that many people consider makes the wearing a face coving unsuitable for them.”

The email then links you to a mask exemption form you can download from the Disabled Person’s Assembly, a very valid organisation that does amazing work for the disabled community. A community that may actually need the occasional exemption from wearing a mask.

Is it illegal to do this? No. She’s not going to jail. There are bigger fish to try. I talked to Air New Zealand about it — their Chief Operational Integrity and Safety Officer David Morgan provided this take:

“In line with Ministry of Health guidelines, we strongly encourage our passengers to wear face masks and almost every one of our passengers that can does so. As is the case with all other transport operators, Air New Zealand is not expected or required by the Ministry to enforce passenger compliance. In a small number of cases, passengers are not able to wear a mask for reasons of health or wellbeing.

“A statement to this effect by the passenger need not be supported by a certificate or other evidence. Conversely those who refuse to wear a mask, for reasons other than health or wellbeing, may be treated under Air New Zealand’s conditions of carriage. To date only seven passengers have been offloaded for this reason.”

So what’s my point?

I guess it’s just… the selfishness and self-obsession of the anti-mask movement in New Zealand. It’s not about other people, or about freedom — it’s about being smug fucks who don’t like to think of the greater good.

They’re perfectly happy to stress out some senior citizens on a flight, and piggyback their deranged readers to download forms from a disability website.

All the while — that shit-eating. grin.

It was the grin of the MAGA-hat wearing teacher, too. It’s the grin of the person “just asking questions”.

It’s a grin of misinformation and selfishness. And it’s a grin we’re increasingly going to have to get used to.