In a surprise move, the US federal mask mandate on public transport – including planes and trains – has been scrapped following a ruling by US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Florida.
This is despite the fact that the CDC extended the mask mandate until 3rd May as recently as last week as Omicron sub-variant BA.2 makes its way through the US population.
However, the new ruling means that this is no longer the case, and the US government issued a statement:
“Today’s court decision means that the CDC’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time. Therefore TSA will not enforce its security directives requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time.”
Given the mandate’s short extension, the administration is unlikely to challenge the decision. The mandate has had dwindling support and the Democrats cannot afford to alienate middle American voters as the country prepares for midterm elections this Autumn.
Airlines are making masks optional
Virtually all US airlines have now issued statements that wearing masks on board aircraft will become optional, unless a destination requires it.
That means that you will no longer need to wear masks on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic flights to or from the USA. Both airlines have confirmed this on social media.
It makes the the US one of the first (and certainly the biggest) long haul destination where masks are no longer required. However, you still need to take a lateral flow or PCR test before heading to the United States.
Delta, American Airlines, United and other US carriers as well as Amtrak are similarly choosing to make masks an optional part of the travel experience.
Airlines and passengers are happy
Airlines are likely to welcome the move, despite the political way in which it happened: Airlines4America, a lobby group, said it was “encouraged by the lifting of the federal transportation mask mandate”.
The mask mandate came up against considerably opposition in the US where the issue was split along partisan lines. The order was challenged by the ‘Health Freedom Defense Fund’ in Florida where US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled in favour of the plaintiffs.
Mizelle was appointed to the District Court in 2020 by Donald Trump; the American Bar Association rated her as ‘Not Qualified’ for the job based on her lack of experience: “since her admission to the bar Ms. Mizelle has not tried a case, civil or criminal, as lead or co-counsel.”
Despite the political nature of her appointment and of the plaintiffs, airlines will be happy to be rid of the mandate given the issues they have had enforcing it. Cabin crew are also likely to be sighing in relief now that they no longer have to challenge the maskless. In the last year, the TSA jailed 22 people for violating the mandates and issued 2,709 fines totalling $640,000.