U.S. Airlines Quick to Drop Mask Mandate After Federal Court Ruling

Delta, American, United, and more did not waste any time lifting their face mask protocols on board.

Travelers at the departures concourse of Miami International Airport (MIA) in Miami, Florida, U.S.
Photo: Saul Martinez/Getty Images

All major airlines in the United States have dropped mask requirements after a federal judge in Florida threw out the federal transportation mask mandate on Monday.

Carriers including United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, JetBlue, and more nixed their face mask rules for both passengers and crew.

Hours earlier, U.S. District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled the federal mask mandate, which required face coverings be worn on planes, in airports, on trains, buses, and on other forms of public transport "violates the procedures required for agency rulemaking." Following her ruling, the Transportation Security Administration said it would no longer enforce the mandate, but noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time."

The mandate, which was first implemented in January 2021 and extended several times since, was recently continued until May 3 as the CDC continues to assess a spike in COVID-19 cases related to a new omicron subvariant, BA.2.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the ruling a "disappointing decision" during a briefing on Monday and said the "Department of Homeland Security… and the CDC are reviewing the decision. And, of course, the Department of Justice would make any determinations about litigation."

However, airlines didn't waste a moment updating their policies. United Airlines was one of the first to do away with masks on board domestic flights and select international flights.

"While this means that our employees are no longer required to wear a mask – and no longer have to enforce a mask requirement for most of the flying public – 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 transit," a representative for United told Travel + Leisure. "We will continue to closely monitor the situation in the event of changes."

Similarly, American, Southwest, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and Frontier Airlines put out statements, while a spokesman for JetBlue, which also made masks optional, told T+L "customers and crewmembers are welcome to continue wearing masks in our terminals and on board our aircraft."

Delta, which also dropped mask rules, warned customers there may be a few hiccups at first.

"Given the unexpected nature of this announcement, please be aware that customers, airline employees and federal agency employees, such as TSA, may be receiving this information at different times," the airline wrote in a statement. "You may experience inconsistent enforcement during the next 24 hours as this news is more broadly communicated – remember to show understanding and patience with others who may not be aware enforcement is no longer required."

Tori Emerson Barnes, the executive vice president of public affairs and policy for the U.S. Travel Association, said in a statement shared with T L the decision to halt enforcement of the mask mandate works as "a further step toward endemic management of Covid."

The U.S. is not alone in lifting mask rules on planes and several countries have eliminated pandemic-era rules altogether, including Iceland and the United Kingdom.

But while masks will no longer be mandatory, the U.S. still continues to require all international travelers, including U.S. citizens, to get tested within one day of flying to the country.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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