UPDATE 6:30PM ET:
Just hours after stating it would continue to enforce the mask mandate, United Airlines now says it will no longer require masks onboard or at airports. Live and Let’s Fly has obtained the following communication that just went out to employees:
Effective immediately, masks are no longer required on board domestic flights, select international flights (dependent upon the arrival country’s mask requirements) or at U.S. airports.
This change comes after a decision by a federal judge voiding the federal mask mandate. We will continue to closely monitor the situation in the event of changes.
While this means that you are no longer required to wear a mask – and no longer have to enforce a mask requirement for most of the flying public – we ask that you respect the decision of those employees or customers who choose to do so, as the CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask on public transit.
At the moment, there will be no changes to testing requirements for entry into the U.S.
The original story is below.
Earlier today, a federal judge struck down the CDC mask mandate, ruling that it overstepped the agency’s statutory authority. Even so, United Airlines will continue to enforce masks onboard its flights.
Federal Judge Strikes Down Mask Mandate
US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle struck down the mask mandate today, arguing in a 59-page ruling that the mandate violated administrative law and represented an overstep of statutory authority by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Specifically, the case centered on the meaning of word sanitation. Mizelle argued the 1944 statute, which the federal government used to justify the mandate, only permits “measures that clean something.”
“Wearing a mask cleans nothing. At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance.”
Therefore, according the Mizelle, “Because the CDC required mask wearing as a measure to keep something clean–explaining that it limits the spread of COVID-19 through prevention, but never contending that it actively destroys or removes it–the mask mandate falls outside of §264(a).”
She further found that the mandate “forcibly removed from airplane seats, denied board at the bus steps, and turned away at the train station doors” amounting to a “detention and quarantine” that exceeded the authority of the federal government.
“As a result, the Mask Mandate is best understood not as sanitation, but as an exercise of the CDC’s power to conditionally release individuals to travel despite concerns that they may spread a communicable disease (and to detain or partially quarantine those who refuse). But the power to conditionally release and detain is ordinarily limited to individuals entering the United States from a foreign country.”
Mizelle also called the mandate “arbitrary and capricious” because it failed to explain its reasoning.
It is not clear if the Biden Administration will appeal today’s ruling. The mask mandate is set to expire on May 3, 2022.
United Airlines: Masks Still Required Onboard
Even with the federal ruling striking down the mask mandate, United Airlines will continue to require masks onboard
United Airlines told its employees this afternoon:
The federal requirement that masks be worn on board aircraft and in airports remains in effect for both customers and employees, despite the decision by a federal judge on Monday that struck down the federal mask mandate. The federal mandate originally went into effect in February 2021 but has been extended a number of times. We await additional information from the federal government on whether it will challenge the ruling or rescind the order. Until that time, the airport mask policy remains unchanged.
Live and Let’s Fly reached out to other airlines for comment, but did not hear back ahead of press time. However, it is a safe guess at this point that airlines will officially continue to defer to the federal government and require masks onboard until it receives guidance otherwise.
A federal judge in Florida has stuck down the mask mandate on public transport, immediately vacating the CDC rules which requires masks on trains, busses, and airplanes. Even so, United Airlines will maintain masking requirements until it hears from the federal government. I expect other airlines to do likewise.
image: United Airlines