A Florida federal judge and Trump appointee has liberated the U.S. airlines from the tyranny of having to enforce mask mandates. The five largest U.S. airlines didn't wait long, dropping their mask requirements within hours of the judge's ruling.
Within hours of hours a federal judge in Florida ruling the U.S. government’s mask mandate requirement for airplanes, trains and other transit to be unlawful, the five largest U.S. airlines — Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Southwest Airlines — dropped their mask mandates on Monday night.
“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,” United said in a statement Monday. “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 [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] continues to strongly recommend wearing a mask on public transit.”
The CEOs of American, Southwest, and United testified before Congress back in December that mask mandates were no longer necessary.
“In accordance with the Transportation Security Administration [TSA] 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 on Monday. “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.”
Delta said it is dropping its mask requirement immediately. “Effective immediately, 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 in a statement.
Southwest through a spokesman said masks would now be optional for passengers on its aircraft while stressing the steps the carrier has made to prevent the spread of Covid-19. “As a result of this development, effectively immediately, 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 well being,” Southwest said. “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.”
Alaska said in a statement: “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.
“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.”
Not everybody in travel circles, however, was as clear-cut on the ruling as was United and Alaska. Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy at the U.S. Travel Association, said “today’s court ruling on the federal mask mandate requires clarity from the federal government and enforcement agencies for the sake of the traveling public and the employees of the travel industry.”
The head of the country’s largest flight attendants union called for patience as the new rules go into effect. “In aviation operations, it is impossible to simply flip a switch from one minute to the next,” Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson said in a statement. “It takes a minimum of 24-48 hours to implement new procedures and communicate this throughout the entire network.
“Policies and procedures must be updated and thoroughly communicated to hundreds of thousands of employees, along with millions of travelers,” Nelson added. “Announcements and signage, electronic and physical must be updated.”
Delta echoed this sentiment in a memo to employees and said it is working to update signage in airports. “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,” the memo said. “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.”
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki expressed disappointment in the ruling by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, adding “we would say to anyone sitting out there, we would recommend you wear masks on the airplane.”