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No more masks on flights to and from the United States

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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.

Comments (67)

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  • James Vickers says:

    Really frustrating I thought on our flight from Seattle to London with British airways the other day that on announcements kept saying you have to wear a mask by federal law.

    I was under the impression that law only applied if flying to the US so it was clearly their policy if so.

    Happy to see this has gone though, the tests really need to follow.

    • Paul says:

      The USA mask mandate applied in both directions, if airlines didn’t enforce it till landing in non-us destination they could face being banned from US ports.

  • Mark says:

    Wonder if Mexico will follow as I feel they were just following the lead from the USA.

  • tony says:

    Slightly annoying as I was on the daytime AA flight from JFK to LHR yesterday. There was no mid-flight announcement for us, sadly…

    • A says:

      Haha, I was heading in the opposite direction on VS. It must have been announced minutes after take off, and they didn’t announce it either – would have been nice to remove it. When the doors were opening they even still made an announcement that it was federal law to wear one in the airport until we got out of the building

  • Cal says:

    Was not that bothered about the mask requirements for my flight to Seattle in May as we are in Virgin upper but rather the testing requirements for the US. Got a wedding two days before so would prefer if it was scrapped.

    For anyone who does want to wear a mask for travel, I recommend the FPP2 masks from Boots or Lloyds pharmacy. Especially for those with health concerns.

  • Dominic Barrington says:

    Never mind the US…. I flew LHR/EDI on BA yesterday – it being the day all COVID restrictions were lifted in Scotland. But on the plane we were repeatedly told we ‘had’ to wear masks. It was plain the IFM and the Captain were embarrassed about this!

    • Chris says:

      Did they acknowledge the incorrect information? Did people wear masks?

      I checked the BA website yesterday and it still said masks were required for travel between Scotland and England

    • Ruth4325 says:

      I almost got refused boarding onto an Easyjet flight EDI-CDG last week because i didn’t have a medical mask. I did however have a full mask with filter, just not the flimsy ‘medical’ mask apparently required by France, and which no one was wearing at CDG anyway when we arrived! Luckily some kind passengers in the queue supplied me with a medical mask and I was allowed to board but it did seem really ridiculous.

      • manilabay says:

        I have been in CDG last night, the FR rules currently are Masks on trains, planes & all public transport but everywhere else optional – including terminal buildings.

  • VerdantBacon says:

    Flying back from the US today, mask mandate lifted just hours before getting on the plane, very convenient!

  • Genghis says:

    “Delta, American Airlines, United and other US carriers as well as Amtrak are similarly choosing to make masks an optional part of the flying experience”

    Maybe change “flying experience” since Amtrak operate trains

  • Tom says:

    Considering the airlines are blaming staff sickness for their operational woes, I’m struggling to see how this will help matters. I’ve had four cancelled flights so far this month. The last one was cancelled after pushing back from the gate at Heathrow T5, and it was difficult getting off the plane again since ground staff could not be found to operate the jetway or open the plane door.

    • Max says:

      No more masks has a few medical advantages:
      1.) Less fungus infections. Fungus grows rapidly in moist masks, especially if they get moist after wearing them a few minutes.
      2.) Less microplastics in the lungs. With all the low-quality masks around, there is a significant amount of micro- and nano-plastics that gets breathed in.
      3.) Psychological effect: No longer you are living in a mask-regime where outside powers are deciding your live, you are once again allowed to be a free independent individual. Also you get back mimics, an important way of human communication. Also once again seeing smiles on people’s faces significantly improves the mood and therefore also the health.

    • Harry T says:

      They are blaming staff sickness but the issue is systematic underinvestment in their IT/infrastructure for years and using covid to try and fire and rehire all their staff under worse pay conditions.

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