Following a federal court ruling in Florida, the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) said it could no longer enforce the mask mandate on public transportation, which led to several US airlines announcing masks would no longer be required in flight. 

In a statement released today, the TSA said "effective immediately, TSA will no longer enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs".

The statement follows a federal court ruling in Florida on Monday that saw US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle strike down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) mask mandate for travelers on planes, trains, taxis, buses, and other forms of public transportation.

In a 59-page ruling, Mizelle said the mandate, introduced by the Biden administration in January 2021, went beyond the CDC's powers. "The court concludes that the mask mandate exceeds the CDC's statutory authority and violates the procedures required for agency rulemaking under the APA," the judge wrote.

The White House said it is reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps. "This is obviously a disappointing decision," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday. While it's no longer mandatory, she said the CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask when using public transport.

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A woman having her documents checked at a TSA checkpoint at an airport
The CDC's public transport mask mandate has been dropped © George Frey / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Which airlines have dropped mask mandates?

In response to the TSA's statement on Monday, most major US-based airlines dropped mask mandates effective immediately including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United.

Airlines stressed that passengers can continue to wear face masks on board their flights if they wish, regardless of the ruling. Some carriers said masks may still be required on certain international flights depending on the local rules at a given destination.

"Face masks have been like boarding passes for nearly two years — you couldn't fly without one. But, as of today, masks are optional in airports and onboard aircraft, effective immediately," Alaska Airlines said in a statement.

"While we are glad this means many of us get to see your smiling faces, we understand some might have mixed feelings. Please remember to be kind to one another and that wearing a mask while traveling is still an option."

Do I need to wear a mask in airports?

The ruling means that masks are no longer required in airports, but it's still a good idea to pack one if traveling internationally as many airports around the world require that passengers wear a face mask while in their terminals.

If you need to catch a connecting flight outside the United States, it's likely you'll need to wear a mask on board the airplane. Be sure to check with your airline for its mask policies before traveling. Many countries, particularly in Europe and Asia, require that passengers wear masks in taxis and on board busses and trains too. Failure to do so could result in a fine.

What about elsewhere?

It's worth noting that while the federal government will no longer enforce the mask mandate for airlines and mass transit, some regional authorities are keeping them in place, including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York City which continues to require masks on its busses, subways and commuter rails.

But mask mandates are dropping like hotcakes almost everywhere else.

Amtrak today ended its mask mandate, meaning face masks are now optional on board its trains for its customers and employees.

"While Amtrak passengers and employees are no longer required to wear masks while on board trains or in stations, masks are welcome and remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19. Anyone needing or choosing to wear one is encouraged to do so," the rail company said in a statement.

Uber has also followed suit by dropping its mask requirements for drivers and passengers.

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This article was first published May 3, 2021 and updated Apr 19, 2022.

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