After a federal judge in Florida struck down a nationwide mask mandate on public transportation and transit hubs, including planes, trains, buses, and airports on Tuesday, most major U.S. airlines announced they would end the mask requirement on flights, a policy carriers have had in place for nearly two years.

Following an announcement by the White House ending the order, the Transportation Security Administration made a statement that it would no longer enforce the mandate. The agency also made note of the current recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time.”

U.S. carriers including Delta, United, Jetblue, American Airlines, Southwest, and Frontier then issued their own statements dropping the mask requirement; most carriers reiterated the fact that passengers are still free to wear one if they wish. “We are relieved to see the U.S. mask mandate lift to facilitate global travel as COVID-19 transitions to a more manageable respiratory virus—with better treatments, vaccines and other scientific measures to prevent serious illness,” Delta said in its statement, which was revised from a previous version that described COVID-19 as an “ordinary seasonal virus.”

JetBlue also reminded customers and crew members who are traveling internationally to have a mask in case they’re required to wear one at their destination, while Southwest emphasized its “sophisticated cabin air ventilation systems” equipped with HEPA air filtration that it claims removes at least 99.97% of airborne particles. In its statement, Alaska Airlines encouraged passengers to “treat each other with kindness and respect” during their travels.

There’s a chance the federal mandate might return, however, depending on a possible White House appeal of the judge’s decision and based on input from the CDC, according to the Associated Press. A timeline on such a development isn’t clear, but it does potentially set the stage for further confusion and chaos in an industry that for two years has faced huge spikes in unruly passenger incidents, many of which stemmed from backlash against the mask policy.

For now, the current no-mask requirement has received sharply divided reactions. Some travelers and industry organizations applauded the news, with passengers posting photos and videos on social media with the hashtag #maskless.

Other passengers, including those who are immunocompromised and parents of children too young to be vaccinated, expressed frustration and anger. Brooke Tansley was among them. The Nashville-based television producer was about midway through a Delta flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles with her husband and two young children, aged four years and eight months—the family’s first flight since December 2019—when the pilot announced that passengers were no longer required to wear masks.

Tansley said about a third of the passengers on the “mostly full” flight immediately removed their masks and cheered. While Tansley said she understood their enthusiasm, she also felt blindsided by the timing of the announcement, noting that had she and her husband known about the policy before their flight, they would have opted to drive instead of fly.





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