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Airlines and transit agencies drop mask mandate

TAMPA, Fla., April 20, 2022 – All major U.S. airlines and regional transit agencies announced they will no longer require face coverings during travel after U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, in Tampa on Monday, ruled that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) overstepped its authority when it issued a mask mandate for planes and other forms of public transportation.

In her ruling, Judge Mizelle issued the following conclusion:

“’It is indisputable that the public has a strong interest in combating the spread of [COVID-19].’ Ala. Ass’n of Realtors, 141 S. Ct. at 2490. In pursuit of that end, the CDC issued the Mask Mandate. But the Mandate exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority, improperly invoked the good cause exception to notice and comment rulemaking, and failed to adequately explain its decisions. Because ‘our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends,’ id., the Court declares unlawful and vacates the Mask Mandate.”

In a joint press release on Tuesday, April 19, all transit agencies in Puget Sound announced they will no longer enforce facial coverings for their customers. However, transit riders are not prohibited from voluntarily “wearing face coverings if they wish.”

In accordance with yesterday’s statement from the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA), agencies providing transit to riders throughout the Puget Sound region announced that face coverings will no longer be required on transit, at transit facilities or in transit hubs effective today.”

The agencies participating in yesterday’s joint press release were the following:

The Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it and the CDC “disagree with the district court’s decision and will appeal… If CDC concludes that a mandatory order remains necessary for the public’s health after that assessment.”

The district court’s ruling comes less than a week after the CDC extended the mandate through May 3, 2022, which were set to expire on April 18. The CDC’s Mask Mandate was expended in April and August of 2021.

Paine Field and Sea-Tac airports and airlines drop mask mandate

After the TSA’s announcement that it will “no longer enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs” due to the district court’s decision, Paine Field Airport issued the following statement:

“Due to a judicial decision in our federal court system, face masks are currently optional at the airport and on commercial aircraft.”

Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and United airlines and Sea-Tac airport all made similar announcements no longer requiring facial coverings on domestic flights.

Mask Mandate for Airlines

Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden issued Executive Order 13998 on January 21, 2021, that required masks on various forms of transportation and while in transit hubs in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. Then on February 3, 2021, the CDC published a Mask Mandate without allowing public participation through the APA’s notice and comment procedures stating “it would be impracticable and contrary to the public’s health” to delay the Mandate. Below is an excerpt from the CDC’s Mask Mandate document:

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), announces an Agency Order requiring persons to wear masks over the mouth and nose when traveling on any conveyance (e.g., airplanes, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares, ferries, ships, trolleys, and cable cars) into or within the United States. A person must also wear a mask on any conveyance departing from the United States until the conveyance reaches its foreign destination. Additionally, a person must wear a mask while at any transportation hub within the United States (e.g., airport, bus terminal, marina, train station, seaport or other port, subway station, or any other area that provides transportation within the United States). Furthermore, operators of conveyances and transportation hubs must use best efforts to ensure that persons wear masks as required by this Order.”

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