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No more mask mandate on planes – for now

Updated Apr 19th, 2022 1:30AM EDT
Southwest Airlines CEO tests positive for COVID-19

It’s official: If you have a flight scheduled for the foreseeable future, the mask mandate that’s been in effect for the duration of the Covid pandemic is no longer being enforced.

For now.

That’s the operative phrase here, and it stems from a Trump-appointed federal judge in Florida on Monday striking down the mask mandate for public transportation. Her ruling said it exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority. The Biden administration is currently figuring out what this means going forward. But, again, as for the immediate impact right now?

“The agencies are reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps,” a Biden official told reporters Monday night. “In the meantime, today’s court decision means CDC’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time.”

Mask mandate on planes “not in effect at this time”

Monday’s decision by 35-year-old US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Florida also comes after the CDC just last week extended the mask mandate for planes, trains, and other means of public transport through May 3.

You can read the federal judge’s decision striking down the mask mandate right here.

“It is indisputable that the public has a strong interest in combating the spread of (Covid-19),” the ruling notes. “In pursuit of that end, the CDC issued the mask mandate. But the mandate exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority, improperly invoked the good cause exception to notice and comment rulemaking, and failed to adequately explain its decisions.

“Because ‘our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends,’ the court declares unlawful and vacates the mask mandate.”

Does the US CDC recommend wearing masks for COVID-19?

The nuance that shouldn’t be lost here, meanwhile, is in the following. The statement above from the Biden administration official should not be construed as an invitation to throw caution to the wind, and that everything’s back to normal. On the contrary, while the mask mandate is not currently in effect? The CDC still recommends that people wear them on planes and other forms of public transportation.

All of which is to say, it’s important to recognize this decision for what it is. Covid protocols were never going to be a permanent state of affairs.

Covid cases have also fallen considerably in the US. A new variant is starting to reverse that trend in pockets of the country. But the fact of the matter is that the country is in a much better place now than in 2020. The only thing today’s court decision about the mask mandate is about is whether TSA agents — and, by extension, flight attendants and the like — can force you to wear a face mask. If you feel that it’s still important to wear one, there’s nothing stopping you from doing so.

For those who feel that the judge’s decision today is not ideal? Again, you can still wear one if you want. All this really does is just reinforce for you that your own actions are still the only thing in your control. Which is the way it’s always been, even before the mask mandate ruling.

Airlines respond

As word of the court’s ruling decision began to circulate, airlines are starting to respond.

  • United Airlines: “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.”
  • Southwest Airlines: “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 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% of airborne particles.”
  • Delta Airlines: “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. Delta employees and customers may continue wearing masks if they so choose. Wearing a well-fitting mask protects the wearer, even if others around them are not wearing masks.”
Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.