There can be turbulence in the plane cabin as a court ruling struck down the federal mask mandate in court on April 18, 2022. As a result, commercial passengers and crewmembers may no longer need to wear a mask sooner than anticipated.
Federal Mask Mandate Suspension
A U.S. District Court judge struck down the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) mask mandate, which has been in effect for 14 months. The reasons for the suspension include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) exceeding its authority.
This suspension comes just a few days after the latest TSA mask mandate extension. The mandate was most recently extended two weeks from its planned April 18 expiration to address the spread of the BA.2 subvariant.
As a result, the TSA won’t enforce the mask mandate until further notice.
While the mandate is inactive, there are no legal penalties or fines for not wearing a mask on commercial transit or in a public transit terminal. Passengers are still welcome to wear a face-covering if they wish.
Carriers could re-adopt company-wide mask requirements similar to the 2020 travel guidelines during the Trump Administration. However, this possibility is unlikely as many states and cities canceled their mask mandates earlier in 2022.
In addition, many travel providers have been pushing to repeal the federal mandate as the situation is different from the first year of the pandemic.
New Mask Guidelines For Travel
While the mask mandate was suspended unexpectedly, major airlines quickly adopted the new guidelines.
Masking is now optional on these domestic airlines:
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- United Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
While fewer people will be wearing masks on the plane, airlines remind passengers that onboard HEPA filtration can fully exchange the cabin air every 2-3 minutes.
Amtrak is also no longer requiring riders to wear a mask.
As of April 19, 2022, Greyhound Bus Lines still requires passengers to wear masks.
While there are no longer any federal ramifications for not wearing a mask, travel carriers and local governments may still have mask requirements. In addition, international destinations may also have a mask mandate and other travel restrictions.
Potential Mask Mandate Appeal
Commercial passengers don’t have to wear a mask when traveling within the United States for the foreseeable future. Many individuals and travel providers have long anticipated this announcement hoping to finally “return to normal.”
To add icing on the cake, TSA checkpoint numbers for 2022 are at or near the 2019 levels as domestic air travel numbers are back to pre-pandemic levels. This ruling can either continue to make travel easier, or it can send shockwaves that may rattle traveler sentiment.
In the meantime, the Biden Administration states they are reviewing the current legal outcome and the steps necessary to appeal the ruling.
There remains a reasonable possibility that the mask mandate will go back into effect within several months as the legal process progresses. After all, the judicial branch of government struck down the requirement, but the executive branch still wants a federal mandate.
A resurgence in cases and hospitalizations can also bring back mask requirements.
It might be surprising that the federal mask mandate is no longer in effect. As a result, this is the first time in two years that travelers don’t need to wear a mask to travel. However, a successful court appeal can reinstate the federal requirements. Nevertheless, travelers shouldn’t get too comfortable with the looser guidelines just yet.