U.S. Mask Mandate is Over on Airplanes

Well, almost… first reported by Reuters, airlines will will no longer enforce a U.S. mask mandate on public transportation, effective immediately, after a federal judge in Florida ruled that the directive was unlawful, overturning a key White House effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Soon after the announcement, all major carriers including American Airlines (AAL.O), United Airlines (UAL.O) and Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), as well as national train line Amtrak relaxed the restrictions effective immediately. read more

Last week, U.S. health officials had extended the mandate to May 3 requiring travelers to wear masks on airplanes, trains, and in taxis, ride-share vehicles or transit hubs, saying they needed time to assess the impact of a recent rise in COVID-19 cases caused by the airborne coronavirus.

Industry groups and Republican lawmakers balked and wanted the administration to end the 14-month-old mask mandate permanently.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, an appointee of President Donald Trump, came in a lawsuit filed last year in Tampa, Florida, by a group called the Health Freedom Defense Fund. It follows a string of rulings against Biden administration directives to fight the infectious disease that has killed nearly one million Americans, including vaccine or test mandates for employers.

Judge Mizelle said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had exceeded its authority with the mandate, had not sought public comment and did not adequately explain its decisions.

A U.S. administration official said while the agencies were assessing potential next steps, the court’s decision meant CDC’s public transportation masking order was no longer in effect. The administration could still opt to appeal the order or seek an emergency delay in the order’s enforcement.

“Therefore, TSA will not enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time,” the official said in a statement.

“CDC recommends that people continue to wear masks in indoor public transportation settings.”

The Transportation Security Administration said it will rescind the new Security Directives that were scheduled to take effect on Tuesday.

The ruling comes as COVID-19 infections rise again in the United States, with 36,251 new infections reported on average each day, and 460 daily deaths, based on a seven-day average – the highest number of reported total COVID-19 deaths in the world.

The White House called the ruling “disappointing.”

The CDC first issued a public health order requiring masks in interstate transportation in February 2021. The TSA issued a security directive to enforce the CDC order.

The CDC and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) declined to comment.

Airlines welcomed the move on Monday by saying they would no longer require masks:

ALASKA AIRLINES (ALK.N)

“Face masks have been like boarding passes for nearly two years — you couldn’t fly without one. But, as of today, masks are optional in airports and onboard aircraft, effective immediately.”

“While we are glad this means many of us get to see your smiling faces, we understand some might have mixed feelings. Please remember to be kind to one another and that wearing a mask while traveling is still an option.”

AMERICAN AIRLINES (AAL.O)

“Face masks will no longer be required for our customers and team members at U.S. airports and on domestic flights.

“Please note face masks may still be required based on local ordinances, or when traveling to/from certain international locations based on country requirements.”

DELTA AIR LINES (DAL.N)

“Effective immediately, masks are optional for all airport employees, crew members and customers inside U.S. airports and onboard aircraft.”

“We are relieved to see the U.S. mask mandate lift to facilitate global travel as COVID-19 has transitioned to an ordinary seasonal virus. Thank you for your support in complying with the federal mask mandate and keeping each other, and our customers, safe during the pandemic.”

UNITED AIRLINES (UAL.O)

“Effective immediately, masks are no longer required at United on domestic flights, select international flights (dependent upon the arrival country’s mask requirements) or at U.S. airports.

“While this means that our employees are no longer required to wear a mask – and no longer have to enforce a mask requirement for most of the flying public – they will be able to wear masks if they choose to do so, as the CDC continues to strongly recommend wearing a mask on public transit.”

JETBLUE (JBLU.O) “Mask wearing will now be optional on JetBlue. While no longer required, customers and crewmembers are welcome to continue wearing masks in our terminals and on board our aircraft.”

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES (LUV.N) “Southwest employees and customers will be able to choose whether they would like to wear a mask, and we encourage individuals to make the best decision to support their personal wellbeing.”

“We look forward to welcoming millions of travelers back to the skies this summer to reunite with loved ones, attend conferences or to take a vacation.”

Are you still going to wear a mask? #maskmandate


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