As anyone who has traveled in the past year knows, the Biden Administration issued a mask mandate for airplanes and other public transport methods in January of 2021 in an attempt to help slow the spread of Covid, and to protect transport workers. This mandate remained in place despite infection numbers going down and mask mandates being lifted in schools, restaurants, and other indoor activities, but now it looks like they are a thing of the past. A federal judge in Florida has ruled that mask mandates for travel are unlawful and has struck them down, meaning that everyone can now make the choice whether or not to mask up while traveling on any form of transport.
Masks Are Now Optional
In her ruling, US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle stated that the mask mandate was unlawful, and violated administrative law. In the 59-page ruling, Judge Mizelle wrote “Wearing a mask cleans nothing. At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance.”
She also wrote that “the mandate is best understood not as sanitation, but as an exercise of the CDC’s power to conditionally release individuals to travel despite concerns that they may spread a communicable disease (and to detain or partially quarantine those who refuse). But the power to conditionally release and detain is ordinarily limited to individuals entering the United States from a foreign country.”
Following the ruling, several US airlines — Delta, United, and Southwest among them — said masks are now optional on their aircraft. In a statement, Alaska Airlines said that passengers whose behavior was “particularly egregious” over the past two years in objecting to the mandate will remain banned from flying on the airline, “even after the mask policy is rescinded.”
Although the mask mandate has ended in the US, that does not mean that other countries are not requiring masks to travel. That means it’s important to be aware of the rules for each country you travel to, and respect those rules when traveling on foreign flights. In the meantime, you can keep yourself safe by wearing a mask if you so choose, and by getting vaccinated and/or boosted.
The Biden Administration’s Stance
The Biden Administration seems to be accepting the decision, although they are hinting that they are not in agreement with the removal of the mandate. According to one official, “The agencies are reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps. In the meantime, today’s court decision means CDC’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time. Therefore, TSA will not enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time. CDC recommends that people continue to wear masks in indoor public transportation settings.”