Masks on airplanes could soon be a thing of the past after a Florida federal judge on Monday blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's mandate for public transportation.
District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa ruled the CDC gave insufficient reasons for extending its mask requirement, which was set to expire April 18. The agency advocated for masks as it monitored new cases, pushing the expiration deadline to May 3. It's not clear how the airlines will respond, and the Justice Department could appeal the decision quickly.
President Joe Biden promised during his 2020 campaign to "shut down the virus," but during his presidency the CDC has prolonged pandemic restrictions. Along with travel mask mandates, Biden in February extended his national emergency declaration for the pandemic, citing its "significant risk to the public health and safety of the Nation." His chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has suggested masks on planes may never go away.
"I think when you're dealing with a close space, even though the filtration is good, that you want to go that extra step," Fauci said.
Top airline CEOs testified in a Senate hearing in December that superior air filtration on planes precludes the need for masks. "The case is very strong that masks don't add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment," which is "very safe and high-quality compared to any other indoor setting," Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said.
Despite supporting some of the strictest masking measures on public transportation, Democrats have often been photographed barefaced while flying. Texas Democratic lawmakers last year went maskless on a chartered private flight they took to Washington, D.C., in a failed attempt to halt the Republican-led legislature from passing voting and gun legislation.
The United Kingdom's largest airport and two major British airlines dropped their mask mandates in mid-March. Prime Minister Boris Johnson in January ended masking on public transportation, following reports he violated his own mask mandates multiple times during COVID lockdowns.