A federal judge in Florida rocked the travel industry Monday when she struck down the Biden administration’s mask mandate on public transit including trains and planes. But hours later, it’s still unclear what it means for everyone heading off for a trip.
The Transportation Security Administration will not enforce the order, a senior administration official told NewsNation on Monday evening. But even that may not be the end of the discussion.
Airlines have the ability to require masks on their own. By May 2020, American, Delta, United, Southwest, JetBlue and Frontier required masks, first for their employees and then for their passengers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask mandate didn’t take effect until late January 2021.
Travel blogger Johnny Jet said it’s likely to cause confusion for travelers in the near-term.
“Once you get on the plane, it’s the airline’s choice. It’s like going to a restaurant — no shoes no service; no mask, no flying,” he said Monday on “Rush Hour.”
But the airlines have been at the forefront of trying to end the mandate for months. Airlines For America, a trade group that speaks on behalf of the major airlines, lobbied the CDC and Health and Human Services Department to end the mask mandate for domestic travel and the negative test requirement for international flights as recently as last week.
“The high level of immunity and widespread vaccine accessibility in the U.S. coupled with the hospital-grade cabin air on aircraft provide a strong, science-based foundation for passengers to travel with confidence,” Airlines For America told NewsNation in a statement.
The mask mandates have also caused friction among airline passengers and are at least partly to blame for a spike in unruly behavior aboard planes.
United, Alaska, Frontier, Southwest, American and Delta became the first airlines to announce they would not require masks on their flights later Monday, but until each airline chimes in, it’s unclear what Monday’s development means broadly for travelers.
Other public transportation, such as city-or-state-owned trains and buses, could still be subject to local regulations. But Philadelphia is the only major American city with a mask mandate. None of the states still have broad indoor mask requirements.
Despite the judge’s ruling, the Biden administration — and the TSA — still recommend masking up while taking public transportation.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, said the CDC failed to justify the mandate and did not follow proper rulemaking.
In her 59-page ruling, Mizelle said the only remedy was to vacate the rule entirely across the country because it would be impossible to end it for the limited group of people who objected in the lawsuit.
The Biden administration could appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, but they are not assured of a win there. The Supreme Court struck down their plan to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees at companies with 100 or more workers. However, it did uphold the vaccine mandate in health care facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid.
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