Florida judge strikes down US mask mandate for planes and other travel

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A federal judge in Florida struck down a nationwide mask mandate on airplanes and public transit on Monday, and airlines and airports quickly began to repeal their requirements that passengers wear face coverings. -faces.

The judge’s ruling allowed airlines, airports and transit systems to make their own decisions about mask requirements, resulting in a mix of responses.

Major airlines have moved to an optional mask policy, with some drawing cheers from passengers when the changes were announced over loudspeakers. The Transportation Security Administration said Monday night it would no longer enforce the mask requirement, and airports in Houston and Dallas almost immediately scrapped their mandates after the TSA announcement.

Los Angeles International Airport, the world’s fifth largest by passenger volume, also dropped its mandate, but the Centers for Disease Control continued to recommend masking in transportation “and I think that’s a good council,” LAX spokesman Heath Montgomery said.

Sleeping passengers on a Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta to Barcelona, ​​Spain cheered and cheered as a flight attendant broke the news mid-flight over the ocean.

“No one is happier than us,” the attendant says in a video posted by Dillon Thomas, a CBS Denver reporter who was on the flight. She added that people who wanted to keep their masks on were encouraged to do so.

“But we are ready to give them up,” she added. “So thank you and have a great unmasking day!”

New York City’s transit system planned to keep its mask requirement in place. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said it would make masks optional for passengers on its buses and trains.

The Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s largest cabin crew union, recently took a neutral stance on the mask rule because its members are divided on the issue. On Monday, the union president called for calm on planes and at airports.

“The last thing we need for frontline workers or passengers traveling today is confusion and chaos,” said union leader Sara Nelson.

Nelson said it takes 24 to 48 hours for airlines to put new procedures in place and notify employees. She said passengers should check with airlines for updates on travel requirements.

The mask requirement covered airlines, airports, public transport and taxis, and was the biggest holdover from the pandemic restrictions that were once the norm across the country.

Ruling by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, appointed by former President Donald Trump, also said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to provide a rationale for its decision and did not followed the proper rule-making procedures, which left her fatally flawed.

In her 59-page ruling, Mizelle said the only recourse was to overturn the nationwide rule entirely because ending it would be impossible for the limited group of people who opposed the lawsuit.

The judge said “a limited remedy would be no remedy at all” and that the courts have full authority to make a decision like this – even if the CDC’s goals in fighting the virus are laudable.

The Justice Department declined to comment when asked if it would seek an emergency stay to block the judge’s order. The CDC also declined to comment.

The White House said the court’s decision means the mask order “is not in effect at this time.”

“It’s obviously a disappointing decision,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “The CDC recommends wearing a mask on public transportation.”

The CDC had recently extended the mandate of the maskwhich was due to expire Monday, until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus now responsible for the vast majority of cases in the United States

In New York, Metropolitan Transportation Authority communications director Tim Minton said the system “continues to follow CDC guidelines and will review the Florida court order.”

The MTA operates New York City buses and subways as well as two commuter rail lines. Face coverings have been mandatory on all trains and buses since the start of the pandemic.

United Airlines said in a statement that effective today, masks will no longer be required on domestic or select international flights.

“While this means our employees are no longer required to wear a mask – and no longer have to enforce a mask requirement for most travelers – they will be able to wear masks if they choose to do so, as the CDC continues to strongly recommend wearing a mask on public transport,” United said.

Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines also made similar announcements.

The federal mask requirement for Travelers was the target of months of lobbying by airlines, which sought to kill it. Carriers have argued that efficient air filters on modern planes make transmission of the virus during a flight highly unlikely. Republicans in Congress also fought to kill the mandate.

Critics have seized on the fact that states have rolled back rules requiring masks in restaurants, stores and other indoor settings, yet COVID-19 cases have fallen sharply since the omicron variant peaked in mid-January. .

There have been a series of violent incidents on board planes which have been mainly attributed to disputes over mask-wearing requirements.

The lawsuit was filed in July 2021 by two plaintiffs and the Health Freedom Defense Fund, described in the judge’s order as a nonprofit group that “opposes laws and regulations that require individuals to submit to the administration of medical products, procedures and devices against their will”. .”

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was not directly involved in the case but has fought numerous government demands on coronaviruses, welcomed the decision in a statement on Twitter.

“It’s great to see a federal judge in Florida follow the law and dismiss the Biden mask-carrying warrant. Airline workers and passengers deserve this misery to end,” DeSantis tweeted.


Associated Press writers David Koenig in Dallas, Michael Balsamo and Will Weissert in Washington, and Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this story.

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