The Biden administration’s COVID-19 mask mandate for airplanes and other public travel was struck down Monday by a federal judge in Florida.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week extended the mandate for the fifth time through May 3. The mask mandate was originally announced in Jan. 2021 and applied not only to air travel but also to trains, taxis, ride-share vehicles and transportation hubs.
However, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled that the action is beyond the authority of the CDC. In her decision, Judge Mizelle called the order “arbitrary” and “capricious” and said it did not go through the normal process for establishing federal rules. That process requires an agency to notify the public of the possible change and then have a comment period.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis praised the ruling, saying “airline employees and passengers deserve to have this misery end.” The Republican has opposed the administration and CDC on numerous pandemic mandates, though he was not directly involved with this suit.
It is unclear if the ruling takes effect immediately, and the Transportation Security Administration’s order for airline masking appeared to still be in effect after the announcement. The White House expressed disappointment, but spokesperson Jen Psaki said the recommendation continues to be for people to wear masks.
At least one airline will continue requiring travelers and employees to mask up. United Airlines announced after the ruling that it will continue enforcing mask requirements “despite the decision by a federal judge.”
After Monday’s ruling, Sara Nelson, Association of Flight Attendants’ president, said the need is for consistency on planes and in airports. She said it is harmful for both workers and passengers to have “confusion and chaos.”
Airlines for America, which represents several major U.S. passenger airlines, said it is illogical to require masks on planes when they are no longer recommended in “restaurants, bars, or crowded sports facilities.”
Overall COVID-19 numbers in the U.S. have plunged, even though states and cities have almost entirely rolled back masking requirements. The handwriting is on the wall that the American public, barring a serious surge and not a trickle of endless subvariants, is ready to move on.