Major airlines, airports, Amtrak and Uber ended their mask requirements just hours after a federal judge on Monday voided a recently extended mandate.
Most major air carriers in the United States announced that, effective immediately, they will no longer enforce mask-wearing rules, which had been federal requirements on public transportation since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019. Airlines making the change include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Jet Blue, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.
“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,” Alaska Airlines, one of the first to announce its policy switch, said in a statement.
The announcements follow a similar reversal by the Transportation Security Administration, which had been responsible for enforcing the federal mask mandate for travelers. The TSA noted that masks are still recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when in indoor public transportation settings.
Passengers on several airlines tweeted that captains announced the new policy mid-flight and allowed people to remove their masks.
Passenger rail service Amtrak also announced it was dropping the mask mandate, as did ride-hailing company Uber.
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, North America’s largest transportation network, said its mask requirements will continue to be enforced.
Though many airlines dropped the policy, not all airports have, meaning passengers may be allowed to go maskless while on a plane but would have to put one on before boarding or after landing.
The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, for instance, said masks starting Tuesday are now optional for employees and passengers, while international airports in Chicago and New York City continued to require masks. The Chicago Department of Aviation, which oversees Chicago O’Hare and Midway International Airports, cited a state executive health order for its decision.
The mask policy reversals followed a ruling Monday by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle of Florida. Mizelle, a Donald Trump nominee, wrote in her 59-page decision that the mask mandate exceeded the authority of U.S. health officials, saying they may not “act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends.”
The CDC recently extended the public transit mask mandate, which had been set to end Monday, until May 3. The agency cited the need for more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant that’s now dominating the country’s new cases, which are beginning to rise in some areas but still remain low relative to other peaks in the pandemic. However, health experts warn that those case numbers may be undercounted as mass testing slows down.
The Justice Department has not yet said whether it plans to appeal the Florida judge’s ruling.
The White House said Monday that the Biden administration continues to recommend mask-wearing on public transit and that administration officials are “still reviewing” the Florida judge’s ruling.