Many of the largest airlines in the United States have dropped their masking requirements; these include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest.
The backstory: On Monday, a federal judge in Florida voided the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) mandate requiring face masks on all public transportation, including passenger aircraft. Although the CDC has recently extended the mandate from April 18 through May 3, the judge ruled that the mandate exceeded the CDC’s authority under the Pubic Health Services Act. This means the federal mandate is no longer in effect (for the time being) and airlines and other transportation businesses are allowed to make their own determinations regarding mask policies.
The Biden Administration could appeal the decision, which would put the mandate back in effect until a final decision is reached.
Following the announcement, 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, a further step toward endemic management of COVID.
“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.”
Alaska Airlines have made facemasks optional. “Due to a judicial decision in our federal court system, the mask mandate has been overturned, which means our guests and employees have the option to wear a mask while traveling in the U.S. and at work.”
It continued: “Safety is always our highest priority, so while we love to see your smiling faces in the airport and on board, we respect your decision to keep using this added layer of protection. Above all, we hope you’ll treat each other with kindness and respect throughout the travel journey and beyond.”
The airline also noted that guests must continue to wear masks on flights both to and from Canada, as per the country’s regulations.
What happens to guests who were banned because of not following our previous mask policy? Alaska says it will review its agent and flight attendant reports of those who have been noncompliant, adding “we will have some guests whose behavior was particularly egregious who will remain banned,” even with the mandate being rescinded.
“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,” the airline 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.”
Effective from last night, masks are optional for all airport employees, crew members and customers inside U.S. airports and on board all aircraft domestically, as well as on most international flights. The airline said it was “relieved to see the U.S. mask mandate lift to facilitate global travel as COVID-19 has transitioned to an ordinary seasonal virus.”
Delta added, “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. You may experience inconsistent enforcement during the next 24 hours as this news is more broadly communicated—remember to show understanding and patience with others who may not be aware enforcement is no longer required. Communications to customers and in-airport signage and announcements will be updated to share that masking is now optional—this may take a short period of time.”
All employees and customers of Southwest are now free to choose whether to mask up on flights as a result of the judge’s decision. “We encourage individuals to make the best decision to support their personal wellbeing. Additionally, Southwest will continue supporting the comfort of those who travel with us by offering additional layers of protection, including sophisticated cabin air ventilation systems onboard our aircraft which incorporate HEPA air filtration that removes at least 99.97 percent of airborne particles,” the company said.
The New York Times additionally reports that United Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit and Frontier Airlines have made mask-wearing optional.