By The Associated Press
A decision by a federal judge in Florida to throw out a national masked mandate for public transportation across the U.S. has created a confusing patchwork of rules for passengers while navigating through airports and transportation systems.
The ruling gives airports, mass transit systems, airlines and transportation services the option to keep mask rules or abandon them altogether, leading to rules that differ by city and means of transportation.
Passengers on a United Airlines flight from Houston to Kennedy Airport, for example, can throw away their masks at their departure airport and on the plane, but must put them back on as soon as they land in New York or take a subway train.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently extended the mandate until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus that is now responsible for the vast majority of U.S. cases. But the court ruling upheld the mandate.
Here’s a look at how US transportation centers and suppliers are responding:
Major airlines were among the first to update their rules after the court ruling. United, Southwest, American, Alaska, Delta and JetBlue have announced that masks will no longer be in force on domestic flights.
“While this means that our employees will no longer be required to wear a mask – and will no longer have to enforce a mask requirement for most of the flying public – they will be able to wear masks if they choose to do so. , as the CDC continues to strongly recommend wearing a mask on public transport, ”United Airlines said.
The Association of Flight Attendants, the country’s largest cabin crew union, recently took a neutral stance on the mask rule because its members are divided on the issue. The union’s president on Monday called for calm on planes and at airports.
Alaska Airlines said some passengers who were banned for violating the mask policy would remain banned.
Airports were not so quick to do away with masks, and several expressed uncertainty about the ruling and took a wait-and-see approach.
But others, including the two main airports in Houston, got rid of mask requirements shortly after the Transportation Security Administration said it would no longer enforce the mask mandate. Los Angeles International and Phoenix Sky Harbor also eliminated their mask requirements. San Francisco International Airport has said it is awaiting further guidance from TSA.
The airports in New York apparently kept the mandate intact.
TRAINS AND BUSES
The rules for train and bus passengers differ according to city and transit agency.
In New York, Tim Minton, communications director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the system keeps the mask mandate, meaning face-coverings are still needed on subways, buses and commuter rail lines, as in the early pandemic.
But the regional train system serving the Washington, DC area said Monday masks will now be optional for its customers and employees in the future.
“Our mask mandate is based on federal leadership,” said Paul J. Wiedefeld, general manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. “We will continue to monitor this situation as it unfolds, but masks will be optional on Metro property until further notice.”
Amtrak also said it makes masks optional.
The websites of the car-sharing companies Lyft and Uber still said by Monday night that masks were needed.