Mask requirements on planes became a commonality across the globe after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday, a Florida federal judge struck down Biden's mask rule, and most US carriers have now made them optional.
With COVID cases on the decline, some European airlines have also dropped the mandate on certain routes.
Shortly after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, mask-wearing became the new reality for most people across the globe. For nearly two years, most everyday activities, like dining out and grocery shopping, required masks, even for those that are fully vaccinated.
However, the past few months have shown a decline in COVID cases, and many places around the world are dropping the mask mandate altogether. Despite the relaxed policies, many countries, like France and Germany, still require face coverings to be worn on public transportation, including on aircraft and in airports, according to data provider World Population Reviews.
Because of the mandate, airlines have had to comply with and enforce mask rules. While a lot of people embraced the new norm, many did not take it in stride, leading to a stark uptick in unruly passenger cases, particularly in the US.
The mask mandate on public transportation was implemented in January 2021 by President Joe Biden and the policy was set to expire on March 18 but was extended to April 18, and then again to May 3, frustrating travelers and surprising some analysts.
Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst and president of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider in March that he is concerned about the "uneven set of policies" that makes "airlines and airports look like the bad guys."
As COVID continued to recede and countries ended mask requirements over the previous months, some executives called on the Biden Administration to end the federal mandate in the US.
"It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools, and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do," executives from the US' largest carriers said in a March 23 letter to Biden.
However, on Monday, a Florida federal judge struck down the Administration's mandate. Soon after, the TSA said it would no longer enforce mask-wearing on planes or other public transportation but noted the "CDC recommends that people continue to wear masks in indoor public transportation settings."
With the mandate now expired, several US airlines are joining a handful of European carriers by dropping the rule on aircraft. However, some British carriers have been facing staffing shortages as a result of the nixed mask policy, forcing them to cancel hundreds of flights.
According to data provided from Cirium to CBS MoneyWatch, EasyJet canceled 202 flights departing the UK between March 28 and April 3, compared to zero canceled during the same period in 2019. Meanwhile, BA canceled 393.
An EasyJet spokesperson told CBS that "higher than usual staff sickness levels" contributed to the increase in cancellations. However, a BA spokesperson said only a small number of canceled flights were COVID-related.
"There is risk we may see some of that in North America and it's all dependent on case rates," Rob Morris, head of airline analytics company Ascend by Cirium, said. "But it will be relatively short-term because airlines will adjust their capacity to manage demand and protect their network integrity."
Here are the US and European airlines that no longer require masks on aircraft.
United said in an April 18 email to Insider that "masks are no longer required at United on domestic flights, select international flights (dependent upon the arrival country's mask requirements) or at US airports."
Delta Air Lines
Delta updated its mask policy on April 18 saying "masks are optional for all airport employees, crew members, and customers inside US airports and onboard all aircraft domestically, as well as on most international flights."
American also dropped the rule on Monday, saying passengers and staff will no longer be required to wear masks at the airline's airport or on domestic flights.
"Please note face masks may still be required based on local ordinances, or when traveling to/from certain international locations based on country requirements," the airline said.
Alaska is also making masks optional, but said those banned earlier for mask-related events would continue to be prohibited from flying on the carrier, CNN reported.
Southwest announced on its website that masks are optional for employees and passengers, saying "we encourage individuals to make the best decision to support their personal wellbeing." However, the carrier said the policy is dropped for "some international locations."
JetBlue tweeted on Monday that masks are no longer required on board, but said "while no longer required, customers and crewmembers may continue wearing masks in our terminals and onboard our aircraft."
Frontier said that it was dropping the policy following the TSA's announcement, but reminded passengers that "individual airports and municipalities may still require masks so customers and team members should continue to abide by mask rules within any facility that may require it."
Masks are now optional on Spirit. "We understand some guests may want to continue wearing face coverings on flights, and that's perfectly fine under our optional policy," the airline said in a statement, USA Today reported. "For our guests traveling internationally, please remember to check country-specific airport requirements before traveling."
Hawaiian tweeted its new policy, making masks optional, but noted there are some origin or arrival airports that still require masks.
Sun Country Airlines
Sun Country tweeted on Monday that passengers and staff can wear masks if they choose. "We look forward to seeing your smiles on board & encourage kindness & respect for those who continue to mask," it said.
In a tweet, Avelo said masks are no longer required on board. "If you'd feel more comfortable still wearing yours ... go right ahead," the carrier said.
Breeze said on its website that masks are now optional on its flights. "Please be kind and respectful of individual choices, and remember that wearing a mask while flying on Breeze is still an option if you choose to do so," the company noted.
Following the removal of the mask mandate in England and Wales, British Airways updated its mask policy to be optional on flights where the destination does not require them. However, the airline still requires face coverings for places where the company has not been able to "clarify the local restrictions."
Similar to BA, London-based EasyJet has ended the mask requirement on flights where the origin and destination do not require them. Specifically, people on flights between England, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Isle of Man, Denmark, Sweden, Gibraltar, Switzerland, Hungary, Iceland, and Poland can ditch face coverings onboard.
British low-cost carrier Jet2 was the first airline in the UK to scrap mask requirements on planes, relaxing the rule on March 1. The carrier says masks are still required on flights to and from Scotland, as well as overseas countries that still require them.
Charter airline TUI says masks can be dropped for those traveling to or from England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, but flights to and from Scotland and some overseas countries, like the US, still require face coverings.
Icelandair has also updated its mask policy to be optional on some routes, including flights within Iceland, and to or from Europe and Greenland. However, masks are still required on service to Canada, the US, Germany (except Frankfurt), and Paris.
As of March 16, Virgin Atlantic has changed its mask rules to be optional on flights from Heathrow and Manchester to the Caribbean. Specifically, face coverings can be removed on flights to or from Barbados, St Lucia, Antigua, Grenada, The Bahamas, Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad & Tobago.
Scandinavian Airlines, also known as SAS, removed the mask mandate for flights in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway in October, but has expanded that to all flights except to and from the US, China, and Italy as of April 4.
Norwegian Air Shuttle
Norwegian Air Shuttle changed its covid-era mask policy on April 4, now allowing passengers to forgo face coverings on all of its flights. However, masks may still be required on routes to certain destinations. The company said that as of February 12 when the mandate was lifted in Scandinavia, it has "noticed increased passenger demand and optimism in regards to booking ahead for both leisure and business travel."
The Netherlands has scrapped the mask mandate for public transportation on March 23, except for in airports and on aircraft. A Dutch flag carrier KLM spokesperson told TPG it finds the decision "inappropriate, given the phase the pandemic is in," and said it will "no longer monitor this from March 23," and instead "strongly recommend that our passengers wear a face mask on board in line with EASA and ICAO guidelines."
On its website, KLM noted that some destinations have different mask requirements and the airline will send passengers an email "in the week before departure" with mask policy details for their destination.
Read the original article on Business Insider