Written by CURT ANDERSON
ST. PETERSBURG, FL (AP) – A federal judge in Florida on Monday lifted a national mandate for masks in airplanes and public transportation, and airlines and airports quickly began repealing their demands that passengers wear masks.
The judge’s decision allowed airlines, airports and public transport systems to make their own decisions about the requirements for masks, which led to many responses.
Major airlines have switched to an optional mask policy, and some have caused applause from passengers when changes have been announced over loudspeakers. The Transportation Security Administration said Monday night it would no longer comply with the mask requirements, and airports in Houston and Dallas almost immediately revoked their mandates following the announcement of the TSA.
Los Angeles International Airport, the world’s fifth-largest passenger, has also relinquished its authority, but the Centers for Disease Control has continued to recommend camouflage on transport, “and I think that’s good advice,” said LAX spokesman Heath Montgomery.
Sleepy Delta Air Lines passengers between Atlanta and Barcelona, Spain, were greeted and applauded when the flight attendant announced the news in mid-flight over the ocean.
“No one is happier than we are,” the duty officer said in a video posted by Dylan Thomas, a CBS Denver reporter who was on the flight. She added that people who want to keep masks are encouraged to do so.
“But we are ready to abandon them,” she added. “Thank you and happy unmasking day!”
New York’s public transportation system planned to maintain the mask requirements. The Transit Office in the Washington metropolitan area has said it will make masks optional for passengers on its buses and trains.
The Flight Attendants Association, the country’s largest flight attendants ’union, recently took a neutral stance on the mask rule because its members were divided on the issue. On Monday, the union president called for calm on planes and airports.
“The last thing we need for front-line workers or passengers traveling today is confusion and chaos,” said union leader Sarah Nelson.
Nelson said airlines need 24 to 48 hours to introduce new procedures and notify staff. She said passengers should check with airlines for information on travel requirements.
The demand for the mask extended to airlines, airports, public transportation and taxis, and was the biggest consequence of pandemic restrictions that were once the norm across the country.
U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Kimball Misel in Tampa, the appointee of former President Donald Trump, also said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to justify its decision and failed to follow proper regulatory procedures that left it with fatal flaws.
In her 59-page ruling, Misel said the only remedy was to repeal the rule altogether across the country because it would be impossible to repeal it for a limited group of people who objected to the lawsuit.
The judge said that “a limited remedy will not be a remedy at all” and the courts have full power to make such a decision – even if the CDC’s goals in fighting the virus are commendable.
The Justice Department declined to comment when asked if it would seek an emergency suspension to block the judge’s ruling. The CDC also declined to comment.
The White House said the court ruling meant that the mask order was “not in effect” at the moment.
“It’s obviously a disappointing decision,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. “The CDC recommends wearing a mask on public transport.”
The CDC recently extended the mask, which was due to expire on Monday, until May 3, to give more time to study the BA.2 subvariant of omicoron coronavirus, which is now responsible for the vast majority of cases in the United States.
In New York, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Director Tim Minton said the system “continues to follow the CDC’s recommendations and review the Florida court’s decision.”
The MTA operates New York City’s subway buses and trains, as well as two commuter rail lines. Face coverage has been mandatory on all trains and buses since the beginning of the pandemic.
A statement from United Airlines said the masks would no longer be needed on domestic flights or on some international flights.
“While this means our staff are no longer required to wear masks – and no longer need to comply with mask requirements for most flyers – they will be able to wear masks if they wish to do so, as the CDC continues to strongly recommend wearing masks on public transport,” the statement said. United.
Similar announcements were also made by Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines.
Federal requirements for a passenger mask have been the subject of months of lobbying by airlines seeking to kill him. Carriers have argued that efficient air filters on modern aircraft make transmission of the virus in flight very unlikely. Republicans in Congress also fought to kill the mandate.
Critics have scoffed that states have rolled back rules requiring masks in restaurants, shops and other premises, and yet COVID-19 cases have fallen sharply since the Omicron variant peaked in mid-January.
There have been a series of incidents of violence on planes, mostly related to disputes over mask requirements.
The lawsuit was filed in July 2021 by two plaintiffs and the Freedom of Health Foundation, named in the judge’s ruling as a nonprofit group that “opposes laws and regulations that force people to submit medical products, procedures and devices against their will.”
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was not directly involved in the case but fought many of the government’s demands for the coronavirus, praised the decision in a statement on Twitter.
“It’s great to see a federal judge in Florida enforce the law and reject Biden’s mandate for a transport mask. Both the airline staff and the passengers deserve an end to this suffering, ”DeSantis wrote on Twitter.
Associated Press writers David Koenig of Dallas, Michael Balsamo and Will Weisert of Washington and Karen Matthews of New York contributed to this story.