A Florida federal judge ruled that the U.S. national mask mandate for public transport was invalid. This created confusion for passengers who use transit systems and airports.
This ruling allows airports, mass transit systems and airlines to choose whether they want to keep mask rules or abandon them altogether.
For example, passengers on United Airlines flights from Houston to Kennedy Airport could take off their masks at the departure airport, but they must put them on when they arrive in New York.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recently extended their mandate to May 3 in order to give more time for studying the BA.2 omicron Subvariant of coronavirus, which is responsible for most U.S. cases. The court’s decision put an end to the mandate.
Here are some examples of how U.S. transport centers and providers are responding to this challenge:
After the court’s decision, major airlines were among the first to change their rules. United, Southwest Airlines, American, Alaska Delta, JetBlue, and American announced that masks will no longer be required for domestic flights.
United Airlines stated that while this does not mean that employees will no longer be required to wear a face mask – nor do they have to enforce a requirement for the majority of flying passengers – they will still be able wear masks if they so choose, as the CDC recommends wearing a mask when taking public transit.
Because its members are divided on the issue, the Association of Flight Attendants has taken a neutral position regarding the mask rule. The union president called for calm in airports and on planes Monday.
Alaska Airlines stated that some passengers banned for violating its mask policy will be banned.
The airports took a while to remove masks. Many expressed uncertainty and decided to wait and see.
Others, including two major Houston airports, dropped mask requirements shortly after the Transportation Security Administration declared it would not enforce the mandate. Los Angeles International Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor also removed their mask requirements. San Francisco International Airport stated that it is still waiting for guidance from TSA.
New York City’s airports seemed to be able to fulfill the mandate.
TRAINS AND BUSES
There are different rules for bus and train passengers depending on the city or transit agency.
Tim Minton, communications director at Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said that New York City was maintaining the mask mandate. This means that face coverings are required on subways, buses, and commuter trains, just as they were during the pandemic.
However, the Washington, D.C. area regional train system announced Monday that masks would no longer be required for customers or employees.
Paul J. Wiedefeld is the general manager and CEO for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. “We will continue monitoring this situation as it develops, but masks on Metro property will remain optional until further notice.”
Amtrak stated that it would make masks optional.
Lyft and Uber’s websites still required masks as of Monday evening.