Several US Airlines are Removing Mask Mandates

Lennea Gregg, Reporter

In recent weeks, there has been major change on the horizon of the pandemic, and that change is one that will widely affect the travel of summer 2022. On Monday April 18, 2022, U.S district judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel mask mandate that was set to expire on May 3, 2022. She stated that the CDC, ‘failed to justify its decision and did not follow proper rulemaking procedures that left it fatally flawed.’ 

Following this decision most airlines in the US have made it optional to wear a face covering throughout the airport and on domestic flights. The Transportation Security Administration said it won’t enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and any transportation hubs at this time. These are monumental decisions considering the conditions of airports and public transportation for the last couple of years. 

Op eds have already started pouring out following the ruling, and most experts agree that wearing a mask while traveling protects you even if others don’t wear them, despite previous insights on Covid-19 earlier in 2020 and 2021 regarding most public areas.This is because, according to a 2020 report from the Department of Defense, airplanes tend to have better air exchange rates than trains, hospital rooms or office buildings. This report found that ventilation and filtration systems on airplanes can reduce exposure to airborne virus particles by almost 99 percent. But we must remember that not all coronavirus particles are airborne; people can get exposed through large droplets just as often. This takes place when an individual coughs or sneezes and produces these larger sized droplets. 

These reports also aren’t accounting for people moving up and down aisles or conversing with their neighbors seated next to them. Airport security lines and boarding locations also provide an area for the virus to spread between people. So, with these confounding factors in mind, experts, specifically those from the CDC, say that once you are on the airplane, the absolute best way to avoid infection is to keep your mask on during the entire flight.

While these expert opinions are remaining pro mask, many civilians are celebrating this ruling and looking forward to a summer of mask-free travel. These celebrations come shortly after a noted rise in Covid cases nationwide, mostly due to the BA.2 omicron subvariant. In fact, according to NBC News’ new daily cases are up 42 percent in the last two weeks, even though that number is likely a severe undercount given the increased use of at-home testing kits and unreported cases across the country. 

Despite these rises and threatening reports, many are excited to return to a more ‘normal’ version of summer travel, and possibly with these removals, plane ticket sales have skyrocketed, along with their pricing. It appears that many will be boarding a flight in the coming months. But even though most American airlines are removing their mask mandates, some international companies are giving a strong ‘it depends’ statement to the public. For example, British Airways states, “The airline allows customers to fly without masks if the destination they’re traveling to doesn’t require them.”

With these changes looming, the summer travel in the US will be quite unpredictable and much different than the last few. Even with these lifted restrictions, many may still be masked up on flights and in airports, not all are ready for normal to return quite yet.