After a federal judge in Florida struck down the Biden Administration’s transportation mask mandate on Monday, several major U.S. airlines and transit systems began to ditch their mask requirements nationwide, giving travelers and airline employees their first break from COVID-19 safety restrictions in nearly two years.
A viral video showed the rollback was met with a chorus of cheers aboard a Delta flight from New York City to San Francisco, as passengers ripped off their facial coverings when it was announced over the intercom. “Finally!” one person exclaimed. Other travelers expressed concern on social media that the move was premature, and worried for those with compromised immune systems or children not yet eligible for vaccination as cases rise nationwide.
But as the nation looks to return to normalcy this spring, the April 18 ruling marks the end of an era for most airlines, which saw more than 5,000 unruly passenger reports related to mask mandates since January 2021, according to Federal Aviation Administration data. Mask mandates are still recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to allow more time to study BA.2 variant of omicron, which is now responsible for the vast majority of cases in the U.S, though the CDC will not enforce it and allows airlines and regional transit systems to decide their own mask policies.
Here’s what each of the major U.S. airlines and transit systems have said as of April 19. This list will be updated.
The Pacific Northwest giant will not require face masks in U.S. airports and onboard aircrafts, though customers must continue to wear facial coverings on flights both to and from Canada, where a mask mandate remains in effect, the airline said on April 18. Alaska is also requiring customers to wear masks at each of the international airports it serves: five in Canada, eight in Mexico and two in Costa Rica.
“It has been a long 24 months with nearly constant change,” said Max Tidwell, vice president of safety and security at Alaska Airlines. “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.”
Guests who were previously banned from flying Alaska for refusing to wear a mask will remain banned even after the mask policy is rescinded, the airline noted.
The Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, which only serves domestic airports, will no longer enforce the federal mask mandate, it said in a statement. “Should the guidance change, we will adjust our policy accordingly,” the statement continued. “Passengers and employees still have the option to wear masks in airports and on aircraft if they so choose.”
Face masks are optional for all customers and employees at U.S. airports and on domestic flights, American said in a statement roughly five hours after the Florida ruling. The airline will still require masks on its flights to cities and countries where mandates are in place, such as Canada and much of Asia, however. “Please note face masks may still be required based on local ordinances,” the airline said. “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 Air Lines
Masks are now optional for all Delta passengers and employees at U.S. airports and on board domestic flights, the airline announced Monday night. Facial coverings may be required for international flights depending on local mandates.
In a statement, Delta acknowledged that despite the change, public health measures are still important and that employees and customers may continue wearing masks if they choose. “Wearing a well-fitting mask—such as a KN95—protects the wearer, even if others around them are not wearing masks, according to our Chief Health Officer Dr. Henry Ting.”
The airline also noted the “unexpected nature of this announcement” and alerted customers that it may take some time to remove all of its old mask signage from airports across the nation. “You may experience inconsistent enforcement during the next 24 hours as this news is more broadly communicated.”
The low-cost domestic and international airline is no longer requiring passengers and employees to wear masks on its flights, though mask requirements for international travel “remain dependent on the arrival/departure country’s regulations,” the airline said in a statement Monday.
“Following today’s ruling by a federal district court judge in Florida that the Biden administration’s mask mandate is unlawful, the mandate is no longer in effect while the ruling is being reviewed,” Frontier said. “Please note that individual airports and municipalities may still require masks so customers and team members should continue to abide by mask rules within any facility that may require it.”
Masks are no longer required in U.S. airport terminals or on JetBlue planes, the New York-based airline said Monday night. Employees will also no longer make announcements about enforcing the mask mandate before departing on domestic flights, which was previously a requirement.
“Customers of course remain free to wear them if they choose,” the airline said in a memo to employees. “This sudden end to the mask mandate may be confusing for some customers…
Given the immediate nature of this change, our website and other customer-facing materials may continue to say a mask is required. We will begin removing these notices, and will also need [to] be prepared to reinstate them if necessary.”
Masks are no longer required onboard most of Southwest’s aircrafts or in airports, the airline said in a statement Monday, acknowledging that some cities, states and countries may still require masks. It encourages individuals “to make the best decision to support their personal wellbeing” about whether or not to wear a mask while in the air.
“We understand there are a number of opinions on this topic, and we ask that you respect and support the individual decisions made by others – that is how we will show hospitality and make customers and cohearts (Southwest employees) feel welcomed, cared for, and appreciated,” Steve Goldberg, Southwest’s senior vice president of operations and hospitality, said in a memo to employees late Monday.
Southwest said it will continue to offer additional layers of protection against the spread of COVID-19, including “sophisticated cabin air ventilation systems” that use HEPA air filtration to remove “at least 99.97% of airborne particles.”
The other discount airline—which could soon be owned by Frontier or JetBlue—also announced on 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,” Spirit said in a statement. “For our guests traveling internationally, please remember to check country-specific airport requirements before traveling.”
United will stop requiring masks on domestic flights, it announced Monday, but they will be required on flights into countries where mandates remain in place. “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 C.D.C. continues to strongly recommend wearing a mask on public transit,” the airline said.
What about airports?
Most U.S. airports have confirmed that they will no longer be enforcing mask requirements, but a handful of others are keeping mask mandates in place, including New York’s JFK and LaGuardia and Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway.
Like all the major U.S. airlines, Amtrak is not requiring passengers or employees to wear face masks on its trains or inside stations. “Masks are welcome and remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19,” the passenger rail service said in a statement on April 19. “Anyone needing or choosing to wear one is encouraged to do so.” Amtrak operates more than 300 trains per day.
Commuter trains and subway policies vary across the country, but several regional railway systems are still requiring masks. Riders of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City (M.T.A., which operates the city’s subways and buses) as well as Los Angeles Metro and Chicago CTA, for instance, must wear masks while in transit.
Although a federal judge ruled to overturn the nationwide mask mandate on public transit, the decision-making power is ultimately in the hands of local transit agencies. The M.T.A., following a decision by the New York state health commissioner, is doubling down on its mask requirement as the city continues to see infections. On Monday, over 7,500 positive COVID-19 cases were reported in New York City.
Other train systems like Brightline, a regional rail service in Florida, and the D.C. Metro are making masks optional for passengers.
Greyhound, Megabus and Coach USA are no longer requiring face masks for passengers or employees.
“The CDC still recommends wearing a mask while on public transit and we encourage customers to make the choice that makes sense for them,” Coach USA and Megabus Vice President Colin Emberson said in a statement. “Please be mindful that masks may still be required while traveling through the bus stations we serve.”
Facial coverings must be worn on cross border trips into Canada and Mexico until their requirements are removed, Greyhound noted.
Masks are now optional for riders and drivers on Uber and Lyft, the nation’s largest ride sharing platforms, except in New York City, where masks are required for taxis and for-hire vehicles. Both companies note that its users should be respectful of personal preference and may cancel a trip at no cost if they feel uncomfortable.
“Remember: many people still feel safer wearing a mask because of personal or family health situations, so please be respectful of their preferences,” Uber posted on its website, noting that the CDC recommends wearing masks. “And if you ever feel uncomfortable, you can always cancel the trip.”
Andrew Hasbun, head of safety communications at Uber, confirmed to TIME that users who cancel a trip for safety reasons would not incur a cancellation fee. “If they are charged, riders can contact our support team and explain the reason for the cancellation in the app,” he said. “Canceling a trip for safety reasons does not count against a driver’s cancellation rate.”
Lyft also announced a similar message. “Anyone who wants to continue wearing a mask is encouraged to do so,” it said in a statement. “As always, drivers or riders can decline to accept or cancel any ride they don’t wish to take.”
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