The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had previously urged that the mask rules remain in effect until May 3, but the Florida judge rejected that directive Monday.
Airlines have already started easing mask requirements, but not without some initial confusion.
So what are the new rules? Do they apply to international travel? How safe is flying without a mask? Here are the answers to some of the most important questions.
What are the new rules for flying with masks in the US?
Most major airlines in the United States have made wearing a mask optional under the latest legal ruling, although some have said face coverings may be required when flying to or arriving at certain destinations.
In the wake of the new ruling, the government’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says it will not enforce masks on public transit or at hubs.
Airlines have in the past enforced their own mask rules, before the mandate was enforced, but most have now repealed the requirement.
Which airlines have made masks optional?
Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Allegiant Air, Hawaiian Airlines and Sun Country Airlines all don’t need face coverings anymore.
This means that both passengers and crew members of these airlines no longer have to wear them on domestic flights.
Will the rules change again?
Airline passengers in the US are no longer required to wear a mask.
Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram/Getty Images
Uncertain. The lifting of the mandate was an abrupt development after U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle overturned the mandate.
A Biden administration official later confirmed that the order would not be in effect while the ruling is under review. It is not immediately known how long that assessment will take and what will result from it.
“The agencies are reviewing the decision and assessing possible next steps,” the Biden administration official said Monday evening. “In the meantime, today’s court ruling means that the CDC’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time.”
Mask requirements for U.S. travelers were initially enforced by major airlines in the spring of 2020, before being made federally mandated for airplanes and other public transportation in February 2021.
Can I still wear a mask if I want to?
Yes. Passengers can still wear a mask on board aircraft if they wish. However, wearing a mask is not required under federal law while the ruling is under review.
I am medically frail, what should I do?
According to DailyExpertNews medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, a “high-quality mask” such as an N95, KN95 or KF94 remains a hugely important tool when it comes to reducing infection risk. , especially in indoor and public areas.
“My recommendation is that immunocompromised people should mask indoors around people of unknown vaccination status,” Wen told DailyExpertNews Health last month.
“Others should decide based on how much they want to avoid contracting Covid-19 and how important it is to be exposed.”
Do I still have to wear a mask for international flights?
This probably depends on the airline and/or the destination you are traveling to.
United Airlines released a statement Monday stating that masks are not required on “select international flights”, while American Airlines has noted that masks may be required “from certain international locations based on country requirements.”
Even if they are not needed on board, they may still be needed when disembarking at international destinations. It is advisable to check with airlines before flying.
What is the medical advice about wearing a mask?
Public health experts recommend that people wear masks that provide the most effective level of protection, especially N95s.
According to Erin Bromage, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, unlike face coverings, N95s can filter out large droplets, as well as the smaller aerosols or particles that may be laden with virus in the air when infected people are around.
While KN95s and KF94s are also considered a high level of protection, the main difference is that the US tests, certifies and regulates the public health experts of the N95s.
Although manufacturers in China test KN95s, they do not meet U.S. regulatory standards and the country’s government has no regulatory body to validate them, said Aaron Collins, a professor emeritus in Mercer University’s School of Engineering and a mechanical engineer with a background in aerosol science. Meanwhile, KF94s are regulated by the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.
“If they’re made to the standard and certified by the right boards in their country, like NIOSH here, they all basically do the same thing,” Bromage says.
What is the risk of contracting Covid while flying?
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has previously stated that the risk of contracting Covid-19 on board a flight is very low, even taking into account the Omicron variant, which “appears to be more transmissible than other variants.” in all environments”.
It is worth noting, however, that the mandatory wearing of a mask was considered to be one of the contributing factors, along with the quality of the air onboard modern jet aircraft, which is regularly refreshed, and the fact that passengers are all heading in the same direction. stand. on an airplane.
Last month, Linsey Marr, an expert in the transmission of infectious diseases through aerosols, told DailyExpertNews via email that dropping the mask mandate would make sense “as long as cases remain low.”
“There’s a smaller chance that someone who is infected will be on the plane. And we know that airplanes have excellent ventilation and filtration, which helps reduce the risk of transmission on an airplane,” said Marr, a professor at Virginia Tech.
dr. DailyExpertNews’s Sanjay Gupta says that because of the rapid exchange of air, most planes are safe environments, but the real risk of air travel is when they pass through the terminals and other enclosed areas.
DailyExpertNews has approached IATA to determine whether it still considers the risk “very low” if those on board are not wearing masks.
DailyExpertNews’s Elizabeth Wolfe, Travis Caldwell, and Marnie Hunter also contributed to this story.