Scrapping of US mask mandate leads to cheers and confusion

Airports, airlines and car-sharing services introduce their own measures after nationwide transport rules were lifted

A US federal judge's decision to strike down the transport mask mandate drew cheers on some flights after airlines announced to passengers they could fly mask-free, but has since created a hodgepodge of rules in transit hubs across the country.

On Monday, US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizell in Florida directed the Centres for Disease Control to reverse the nationwide mask rule, arguing that it is no longer effective.

The CDC had previously announced a two-week extension to the measure, to watch for a potential wave from the Omicron BA.2 subvariant. The US is seeing another rise in Covid-19 cases, with the seven-day average of positive cases increasing by 19.1 per cent week-on-week.

Americans polled by the Kaiser Family Foundation last month were evenly split in support for the travel mask mandate.

The White House said it was disappointed that the mandate "is not in effect at this time". President Joe Biden's administration has not said if they will appeal the judge's ruling.

Los Angeles International Airport, the fifth-largest by passenger volume in the US, dropped its compulsory measure but said it would hand out masks to passengers who request them.

The regional train systems that operates in the nation's capital area also lifted the measure, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced.

Passengers in New Jersey will have the option to "wear a mask based on personal preference" but it is no longer required, Governor Phil Murphy said on Tuesday.

Amtrak, the national passenger train service, also announced face coverings are no longer required.

But not all transit hubs were quick to scrap the rule.

In New York, passengers are still required to wear masks while on board all trains or buses, or in any transit station or hub.

Transit authorities in Chicago and Seattle have also kept mask mandates in place for now.

Uber and Lyft followed suit on Tuesday, with both car service apps telling customers that riders or drivers are no longer required to wear masks.

Five of the biggest US airlines dropped mask requirements for travellers after the decision, to the relief of staff who at times have had to deal with unruly passengers.

“No one’s any happier than we are,” one flight attendant said in a video posted by Dillon Thomas, a CBS Denver reporter, who was on the plane.

Delta Air Lines added in their statement: "We are relieved to see the US mask mandate lift to facilitate global travel as Covid-19 transitions to a more manageable respiratory virus."

The airline got backlash for originally defining Covid-19 as a "ordinary seasonal virus" in their statement on Monday evening, which definition public health specialists argue the pandemic has not yet reached.

Airlines in the UK recently removed mask mandates and suffered flight cancellations due to coronavirus infections among staff members.

Some travellers said they wished they had got advance notice of the rule change.

"The flight [...] crew has taken our choices away from us. Very very angry about this," a Twitter user said about flying with their children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

Immunocompromised people also shared their feelings on the move, leading to some to cancel upcoming flights.

"I cannot imagine what it would have been like for me to have made plans to fly, believing as an immunocompromised person I was safe - then discovering that I wasn't - mid-air. With no ability to change my plans," one tweeted.

Updated: April 27, 2022, 1:42 PM