Following the news of a federal judge in Florida ruling against the Biden administration’s mandatory mask mandate for travelers onboard airplanes and other forms of public transportation, airlines are reacting by lifting mask mandates.
On Monday, some of the major U.S. airlines — Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines — say that masks are now optional for travelers on their aircraft.
In a statement to NPR, United Airlines says that masks are no longer required on domestic flights and select international flights.
“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 continues to strongly recommend wearing a mask on public transit,” the company said in its statement.
A spokesperson for the airline says they will continue to “closely monitor the situation” in the event of changes from health officials.
Delta said in a statement that masks are also optional onboard, but cautioned travelers that they may experience “inconsistent enforcement” over the next 24 hours as the news is more “broadly communicated.”
“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,” Delta said in its statement.
Similarly, Alaska Airlines said that masks for customers are now optional, but emphasized for passengers to be patient with the change in policy.
“Even as more pandemic protocols and policies ease, our team will remain vigilant and prepared for whatever may come next,” the airline said. “Safety remains our top priority.”
Alaska said they will be ready to respond if the U.S. is faced with another COVID-19 surge or even a new variant of the virus.
“Please remember to be kind to one another and that wearing a mask while traveling is still an option,” the statement adds.
Meanwhile, Southwest said in a statement that both employees and passengers could choose whether they would like to wear a mask and are encouraging those to “make the best decision to support their personal wellbeing.”
“We appreciate the cooperation and compliance efforts of our Customers and Employees as policies have evolved. We’ll continue to monitor public health guidance, and federal requirements, while always keeping safety as our uncompromising priority,” according to Southwest.
American Airlines, too, is following suit and is ending its mandatory mask requirement for travelers and staff at U.S. airports and on domestic flights.
The airline says that face masks may still be required in some places, based on local ordinances or when traveling to and from international locations.
Just last week, the CDC extended the transportation mask mandate (which had been set to expire originally on April 18) through May 3 — allowing officials to take more time to study the BA.2 subvariant of COVID-19.
However, on Monday, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled that the federal mask mandate on planes, trains, buses and other modes of public transportation is “unlawful.”
The federal travel mask mandate will not be implemented as the Biden administration reviews a Mizelle’s ruling against it.