Airlines, Passengers React as Mask Mandate Ends

Airlines, Passengers React as Mask Mandate Ends

Thanks to a federal judge in Florida, you won't be needing one of these items when you fly. (photo via elenaleonova / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

There is a sense of relief mixed with joy for most air travelers as a federal judge in Tampa, Fla. on Monday struck down the government’s transportation mask mandate, saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had no such legal power to institute such a mandate.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said it will no longer enforce the mask-wearing rule, which also applies to other public transportation.

Almost immediately, once the news began filtering out, airlines – which had been lobbying and all but begging the Biden Administration to end the mask mandate – began to comply with the new ruling.

That included many carriers, like Alaska Airlines, which had flights in the air when the decision came down.

Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Southwest, JetBlue and United all quickly reacted to the ruling, making mask-wearing optional going forward.

“American Airlines has prioritized the health and safety of its team members and customers throughout the pandemic and has supported the federal government’s measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. In accordance with the Transportation Security Administration no longer enforcing the federal face mask mandate, face masks will no longer be required for our customers and team members at U.S. airports and on domestic flights,” American said in a statement. “Please note face masks may still be required based on local ordinances, or when traveling to/from certain international locations based on country requirements. In keeping with our commitment to creating a welcoming environment for everyone who travels with us, customers and team members may choose to continue to wear masks at their own discretion.”

The airlines did urge caution and patience in the immediate aftermath of the ruling.

“(Passengers) may experience inconsistent enforcement during the next 24 hours as this news is more broadly communicated,” Delta Air Lines said in a statement according to USA Today. “Given the unexpected nature of this announcement, please be aware that customers, airline employees and federal agency employees – such as TSA – may be receiving this information at different times.”

That might be true, but for some, it happened too quickly. And they weren’t happy.

U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes said the current decision to halt enforcement of the federal mask mandate effectively returns the choice of mask usage on planes and other forms of public transportation to travelers and travel industry workers, and is a further step toward endemic management of COVID.

She also used the statement to lobby The White House on another front.

“We also continue to urge the administration to immediately end pre-departure testing for vaccinated inbound international passengers, which discourages travel and provides limited public health benefits,” Barnes said.

Airlines are also making it clear to passengers to steer clear of verbally abusing fellow travelers who decide they still want to wear a mask.

“Face masks have been like boarding passes for nearly two years — you couldn’t fly without one. But, as of (Monday), masks are optional in airports and onboard aircraft, effective immediately,” Alaska Airlines said according to Reuters News Service. “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.”

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