Shortly after a Florida judge struck down a mask mandate on public transportation that includes airplanes, buses, and trains, most major US airlines and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said they would no longer require passengers to wear face coverings on flights.
The April 18 ruling (pdf) by federal judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle came a week after US president Joe Biden extended the transportation mask mandate for an additional 15 days. Mizelle ruled that the mask mandate exceeds the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) statutory authority, and declared it unlawful.
While the CDC is no longer enforcing the federal mandate, it continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings. Public transit authorities in cities like Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia are also keeping mask mandates in place for now. US coronavirus cases have dropped from their peak in January, but hundreds of Americans are still dying from covid-19 each day.
Which airlines dropped their mask mandates?
The following airlines issued statements in response to Mizelle’s ruling:
- Alaska Airlines said masks are now optional in airports and on planes, but would still be required on flights to and from Canada, and in airports in Canada and Mexico.
- American Airlines will no longer require passengers to wear masks at US airports and on domestic flights, but said mandates may still be enforced at certain local or international destinations.
- Delta said masks are now optional for all employees and passengers at US airports and on domestic flights, as well as on most international flights.
- Frontier said masks are no longer required on domestic flights, but cautioned certain airports or countries may still require them.
- JetBlue will no longer enforce the mask mandate, but said passengers and crew members may continue to wear them if they wish. Those traveling to international destinations should continue to carry a mask, the airline added.
- Spirit said masks are now optional for crew members and passengers, but recommended guests check country-specific airport requirements before traveling.
- Southwest employees and customers may now choose whether to wear a mask on flights, at US airports, and some international locations, the airline said.
- United said masks are no longer required on domestic flights, some international flights, or at US airports. “More comfortable keeping yours on? Go right ahead…the choice is yours,” the airline tweeted.
In addition to major US airlines, ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft also dropped their mask requirements.
Companies have the first and last word
While airlines are now falling in line with federal guidance, those same companies led the way on mask requirements at the start of the pandemic, when the Trump administration was reluctant to institute national public health mandates.
Major US airlines started requiring masks well before the Biden administration issued the federal mandate last February, with JetBlue being the first carrier to do so in May 2020. Around the same time, many major retailers started requiring masks or face coverings in stores. Companies crafted their own policies at the beginning of the pandemic, and appear poised to have the last word on them as well.