Major US airlines make masks optional following court ruling

Federal judge rules requirement to wear face coverings on public transport was unlawful

The major airlines in the United States have made it optional for passengers to wear face masks to protect against the transmission of Covid-19 on their flights.

The move follows a ruling by a federal judge in Florida on Monday that found the mask mandate on public transport to be unlawful.

The national train service, Amtrak, on foot of the court ruling, also relaxed the requirement to wear a face mask which had been in place for more than a year.

The ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft both announced on Tuesday that passengers and drivers would no longer be required to wear masks while using the services.

Both companies also said they would allow passengers to sit in the front seat of vehicles.

The five largest US airlines – America, Alaska, Delta, Southwest and United – said they were dropping their mandates, effective immediately.

However, in some large cities masks will still be required on local transportation systems.

In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) said: "The mask requirement on public transit in NY remains in effect for now pursuant to a March 2nd, 2022, determination by the New York State department of health."

New York governor Kathy Hochul in a tweet on Tuesday said masks were still required on the MTA.

The Chicago Transit Authority said it continued to require masks on trains and buses, in accordance with the requirements of an executive order of the state governor.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority said they were lifting their mask mandates.

Public transport

Health authorities are continuing to urge passengers to wear face masks in indoor public transport settings.

US district judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, Florida, on Monday vacated the mask requirement nationwide across the country and directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reverse the policy that had been put in place in February 2021 shortly after the Biden administration took office.

The ruling was issued in a lawsuit filed last year by the Health Freedom Defense Fund, a non-profit group that says it focuses on "bodily autonomy" as a human right.

Last week, the CDC extended the mask requirements on public transport until early May.

However, in a statement on Monday evening following the Florida court ruling, a Biden administration official said federal agencies were reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps.

“In the meantime, the court decision means Centers for Disease Control’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time.

"Therefore, Transportation Security Administration will not enforce its security directives and emergency amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that people continue to wear masks in indoor public transportation settings."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the judge's ruling "a disappointing decision".

The judge found for the plaintiffs on three key issues, ruling that the CDC had exceeded its legal authority, that it had improperly avoided notice and comment procedures, and that its mandate was “arbitrary and capricious”.