Airlines split on masks after US judge throws out mandate

Some international airlines have dropped a requirement for passengers to wear masks on flights to and from America after a US judge threw out a Biden administration mandate.

Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a Donald Trump appointee who sits on the federal bench in Florida, deemed the public transport mask mandate unlawful on Monday, ruling that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its legal authority with the order. The CDC had extended the mask rule until May 3.

After the ruling, leading US airlines including American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines announced that masks would be optional for employees, crew members and customers within US airports and on board aircraft. The change applies to domestic flights and some international ones, depending on the destination, and came despite a majority of people in the US supporting a continuation of the mandate.

Videos posted to social media showed some US passengers applauding when crew members told them masks were now optional.

UK carriers have followed suit, while French and German airlines are maintaining their mask mandates.

British Airways said it has moved immediately to give passengers personal choice over whether to wear a mask on a flight to the US, as did Virgin Atlantic.

The US joined a host of Virgin’s Caribbean destinations where onboard masking is optional, but passengers must still wear masks on flights to destinations including South Africa, Hong Kong and India.

Lufthansa and Air France have not changed their policies and both airlines require passengers to wear a surgical face mask on board their aircraft, regardless of where they are flying.

In the US, Uber, Lyft and Amtrak also lifted mask rules, as the CDC order applied to ride hailing and rail passengers.

However, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Chicago Transit Authority, which together oversee the country’s two largest public transport systems, are keeping mask orders in place.

The Biden administration is contemplating whether to appeal against the judge’s ruling.

Several UK airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, as well as Heathrow airport, dropped blanket rules requiring passengers to wear masks last month, as government measures against Covid-19 were dropped.

Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers, Ryanair, has kept the requirement to wear a mask in place.

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