Confusion as US’s ‘trains and planes’ mask mandate overturned

Federal judge overturned CDC extension

Helen Coffey
Tuesday 19 April 2022 13:39 BST
People wait for their plane departure at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on 3 December 2021 in Houston, Texas
People wait for their plane departure at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on 3 December 2021 in Houston, Texas (Getty Images)

Confusion reigns in the US when it comes to mask-wearing on transport services, after a federal judge overturned the mandate that said face coverings must be worn by travellers.

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.

“Our mask mandate has been based on federal guidance,” said Paul J. Wiedefeld, general manager and CEO.

“We will continue to monitor this situation as it unfolds, but masks will be optional on Metro property until further notice.”

Meanwhile, plane passengers in the US reported that some pilots announced the country’s federal mask mandate had been dropped mid-flight.

Announcements have allegedly taken place on Delta, United and Alaska Airlines services today, after a federal judge in Florida voided the mask mandate.

Some travellers expressed anger that pilots would allow the mask rules to be scrapped while passengers were still airborne, unable to decide whether they were comfortable to go ahead with their flight or not based on the change.

“I am on a plane with my two not-yet-eligible for vax kids and the pilot just announced that the mask mandate has just this minute ended,” tweeted Brooke Tansley, who describes herself as a storyteller-entrepreneur. “Ppl clapped and took off their masks. Here we are having boarded a plane with our kids.”

She added that she was “very upset” that the decision had been made mid-flight, saying: “Here we are, trapped in the sky with our eight-month-old unmasked baby (you can’t actually mask a baby that young) under the supposition that everyone who can be masked would be masked, and the flight 325 crew has taken our choices away from us. Very very angry about this.”

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