fter 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.
Video of the rolling back was viral. Passenger on Delta’s flight from New York City, California to San Francisco cheered and ripped their masks as the news was broadcast over the intercom. “Finally!” one person exclaimed. On social media, other travelers voiced concern that this move was too soon. They also expressed concerns for children and adults with compromised immune systems who are not eligible for vaccines as the number of cases increases nationwide.
As the nation starts to look back to normality this spring, April 18’s ruling will end an era. According to Federal Aviation Administration data, more than 5,000 passenger complaints related to mask mandates were received by airlines since January 2021. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend mask mandates to give more time for studying the BA.2 variant. This is responsible for most cases in the U.S., but the CDC won’t enforce them and airlines and regional transit system can decide what their policies are.
Here’s what each of the major U.S. airlines and transit systems have said as of April 19. The list will continue to be updated.
Although the Pacific Northwest giant won’t require facial masks at U.S. aircrafts, it will continue to ask customers to cover their faces on all flights to Canada. Canada has a mandate to keep masks visible. Alaska will also require customers to use masks at all international airports that it services: 5 in Canada, 8 in Mexico, and 2 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.”
The airline stated that guests who refused to wear masks will be banned from flying Alaska after they have been removed.
Allegiant Air in Las Vegas, which serves only domestic airports and does not enforce federal mandates, released 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.”
American announced that face masks were not required for employees and customers at U.S. domestic airports. The statement came roughly five hours following the Florida ruling. However, masks will be required on flights to certain countries and cities, including Canada, and most of Asia. “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
The airline made Monday’s announcement that masks will be no longer required for Delta employees and passengers at U.S. domestic airports, as well as onboard domestic flights. Depending on the local regulations, facial coverings might be necessary for international flights.
Delta said that even though the changes were made, it was still important to maintain public health and employees can continue wearing masks as long as they wish. “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.”
The New York-based airline announced Monday that masks will no longer be required at American airport terminals and on JetBlue aircrafts. An announcement by airline employees about the removal of masks from domestic flights will not be made anymore.
“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…
We may not be able to remove the notices from our website or other materials that are visible to customers due to this immediate change. These notices will be removed as soon as possible. [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 announced Monday that it will no longer require masks for domestic flights. However, they will still be required to fly into certain countries with mandates. “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.
How 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.
Amtrak, like all major U.S. airlines does not require passengers and employees to use face masks inside its stations or on trains. “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.
Although subway and commuter train policies differ across the nation, many regional rail systems still require 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.
A federal judge has ruled in favor of the repealing the national mask requirement on public transit. However, local transit agencies ultimately have the final say. As the number of infections continues in New York City, the M.T.A. has increased its mask requirement following a New York State Health Commissioner decision. New York City saw over 7,500 cases of COVID-19 infection on Monday.
Others train services, including Brightline (a Florida regional railway service) and D.C. Metro make it optional to wear masks.
Greyhound, Megabus, and Coach USA no longer require face masks from employees or passengers.
“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.”
Greyhound pointed out that facial coverings are required for cross-border trips to Canada and Mexico, until they can be removed.
Take a ride
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. The companies remind users that they should respect their personal preferences and can cancel trips at no charge if they are 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 from Uber’s safety communications team confirmed that cancellation fees for trips cancelled due to safety concerns would not be charged. “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 has also issued 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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