White House voids airplane mask warrant for now after federal judge overturns rule

United Airlines will no longer require masks on planes after the White House said it was lifting the COVID-19 restriction on Monday, at least temporarily, after a federal judge overturned the public health measure.

After repeated extensions to the mask rule in the 14 months since the Biden administration mandated masks shortly after taking office, the White House said in a statement Monday that it was ” review the decision and assess potential next steps” but “In the meantime, today’s court ruling means the CDC’s public masking order is not in effect at this time.

“As a result, the TSA will not be enforcing its safety guidelines and emergency amendment requiring the use of masks on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time,” the White House statement read. “The CDC recommends that people continue to wear masks on indoor public transportation.”

Chicago-based United said the masking rule would no longer be enforced among employees or passengers on domestic flights and international flights to countries that did not have their own masking rules for aircraft.

“While this means our employees are no longer required to wear a mask — and no longer have to enforce a mask requirement for most travelers — they will be able to wear masks if they choose to, as the CDC continues to strongly recommend wearing a mask on public transportation,” Chicago-based United said in a statement.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines did not immediately return requests for comment regarding an updated masking policy.

The airlines lobbied the federal government to drop the mandate, but deferred the decision to aviation and health regulators and the executive branch. Airline executives have argued that mask mandates have dropped in most parts of the country for bars, restaurants, arenas and other public places.

The policy change came after nearly 14 months of federal mask mandates, but for good, airlines have been requiring masks on planes since the start of summer 2020.

But airlines and even some airline employee unions have called on the administration to get rid of the rule, which also includes public airports, trains and buses.

Many expected the mask mandate to end soon, but the Biden administration extended it this month until May 3 with a new COVID-19 variant spike moving across the world and s settling in the United States.

The ruling Monday by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, said the Biden administration overstepped its pandemic authority with the face mask rule and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had failed to wrongly justify its decision and failed to follow proper regulations.

In her 59-page ruling, Mizelle said the only recourse was to overturn the nationwide rule entirely because ending it would be impossible for the limited group of people who opposed the lawsuit.

The judge said “a limited remedy would be no remedy at all” and that the courts have full authority to make a decision like this – even if the CDC’s goals in fighting the virus are laudable.

“Because our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends, the court declares unlawful and voids the mask warrant,” she wrote.

The federal mask requirement for travelers has been the target of months of lobbying by airlines, which have sought to kill it. Carriers have argued that effective air filters on modern planes make transmission of the virus during a flight highly unlikely. Republicans in Congress also fought to kill the mandate.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was not directly involved in the case but fought against numerous government demands on coronaviruses, welcomed the decision in a statement on Twitter.

“It’s great to see a federal judge in Florida follow the law and dismiss the Biden mask-carrying warrant. Airline workers and passengers deserve this misery to end,” DeSantis tweeted.

Critics have seized on the fact that states have rolled back rules requiring masks in restaurants, stores and other indoor settings, yet COVID-19 cases have fallen sharply since the omicron variant peaked in mid-January. .

There have been a series of violent incidents on board planes which have been mainly attributed to disputes over mask-wearing requirements.

The lawsuit was filed in July 2021 by two plaintiffs and the Health Freedom Defense Fund, described in the judge’s order as a nonprofit group that “opposes laws and regulations that require individuals to submit to the administration of medical products, procedures and devices against their will”. .”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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