Following a federal judge’s order that rescinded the federal government’s mask mandate for travel, a significant number of companies moved quickly Monday to do away with the requirement.
Major U.S. carriers such as American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, Frontier Airlines, and Spirit Airlines announced they would not require masks on airplanes as of Monday.
American Airlines said that customers or employees won’t be mandated to wear face coverings on planes or at U.S. terminals.
“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 airline wrote in a statement after the court order.
United said that masks are merely optional, writing in a Twitter post: “Masks are no longer required on domestic flights, select international flights (dependent upon the arrival country’s requirements) or at U.S. airports.”
It added, “More comfortable keeping yours on? Go right ahead… the choice is yours (you look dino-mite either way)!”
JetBlue noted that masks are optional but said that crew members and passengers traveling internationally “should always have a mask with them in case they continue to be required at their destination.”
Southwest said employees and customers have the option to wear a face covering on domestic flights and airports—and some international locations.
“We encourage individuals to make the best decision to support their personal wellbeing,” the airline said in a statement to news outlets Monday.
Delta Air Lines
While Delta said that it would make masks optional, it called for patience as the policy shift is carried out.
“Given the unexpected nature of this announcement, please be aware that customers, airline employees and federal agency employees, such as [Transportation Security Administration], may be receiving this information at different times,” Delta 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.”
Meanwhile, Alaska said in a statement to customers that it welcomed “the opportunity to “see your smiling faces.”
“It has been a long 24 months with nearly constant change,” said Max Tidwell, the airline’s vice president of safety and security. “I could not be prouder of our frontline employees who have handled every pivot focusing on safety and the care we’re known for. We’re also thankful for our guests who remained considerate, patient, and stood by us throughout every twist and turn.”
Spirit Airlines said late Monday that masks are optional.
“We understand some guests may want to continue wearing face coverings on flights, and that’s perfectly fine under our optional policy,” it said. “For our guests traveling internationally, please remember to check country-specific airport requirements before traveling.”
As with other carriers, Frontier Airlines said that it will not mandate masks on planes but it noted that they could be still required at airports in some localities.
“Customers and team members should continue to abide by mask rules within any facility that may require it,” the firm said in a statement. “Per CDC guidance, regardless of whether a mask mandate is in effect, individuals are encouraged to continue to wear masks in indoor settings.”
Amtrak, the most-used passenger rail system in the country, similarly announced Tuesday that passengers and employees would no longer be mandated to wear face coverings.
“While Amtrak passengers and employees are no longer required to wear masks while on board trains or in stations, masks are welcome and remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19,” Amtrak said. “Anyone needing or choosing to wear one is encouraged to do so.”
Despite airlines and airports moving to drop the requirement, some local transit agencies may require people to wear masks. For example, King County Metro and Pierce Transit in the Seattle metropolitan area said the two agencies will keep their mask mandates intact due to a possible Department of Justice appeal.
In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced it would keep its mask requirement intact, according to spokesman Tim Minton, who told outlets the system is “continuing to follow CDC guidelines and will review the Florida court order.”
The flurry of activity came after U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle issued an order against the CDC’s mandate, saying it had exceeded the agency’s statutory authority because its implementation violated federal administrative law.
“At the time when the CDC issued the mandate, the COVID-19 pandemic had been ongoing for almost a year and COVID-19 cases were decreasing,” the Florida judge wrote Monday. “This timing undercuts the CDC’s suggestion that its action was so urgent that a thirty-day comment period was contrary to the public interest. So too, the CDC’s delay in issuing the mandate further undercuts its position.”
Later that day, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the Biden administration will still recommend that individuals wear masks on public transit and said officials are “still reviewing” Mizelle’s order.