British Airways and Virgin Atlantic drop masks on transatlantic flights

US mask mandate overturned by federal judge

Helen Coffey
Thursday 21 April 2022 13:22 BST
Face off: Virgin Atlantic and British Airways aircraft at London Heathrow
Face off: Virgin Atlantic and British Airways aircraft at London Heathrow (Simon Calder)

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have both confirmed that masks will no longer be compulsory for passengers on Transatlantic flights.

The two UK airlines scrapped the measure following a federal judge’s decision to overturn the mask mandate in the US.

“Following the ruling of a United States district court judge on Monday 18 April, the Biden administration has announced that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will no longer enforce the federal mandate requiring masks onboard aircraft,” reads an update on the Virgin website.

“Effective immediately (Tuesday 19 April), face masks will be a personal choice for our customers and people travelling in either direction between the UK and the United States.

“We encourage everyone to be respectful of fellow passengers’ mask preferences, with masks still available for those wishing to wear them.

“Customers may be asked to wear a mask when boarding or disembarking flights, according to the regulations of the departure or arrival airport or destination country/US state.”

BA also updated the rules on its website.

The new rules around mask-wearing on public transport in the US have caused some confusion.

The US mask mandate, which required passengers on public transport, on planes and at airports to wear a mask, had been in place since January 2021.

Due to expire on 18 April 2022, it was extended again until 3 May by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to give more time to study the BA.2 omicron coronavirus variant.

But on Monday, US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, Florida, ruled that the mandate exceeded the CDC’s authority and that it hadn’t justified the order while failing to follow rulemaking procedures.

The voiding of the federal mandate means airports, mass transit systems, airlines and ride-hailing services can choose whether or not they want to keep compulsory mask-wearing in place, resulting in a patchwork of different rules that can vary between destinations and transport systems.

For example, a spokesperson for New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority said the mask mandate would stay in place for travellers on the subway, buses and commuter rail lines.

However, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has already announced that face coverings will now be optional.

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