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Can I really give up my mask while traveling?

What happened?

A federal judge appointed by Donald Trump in Florida overturned the warrant on Monday, ruling that while “it is indisputable that the public has a strong interest in combating the spread of Covid-19”, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overstepped their authority. by imposing the compulsory wearing of a mask in public transport. She also ruled that the agency improperly circumvented normal rule-making procedures and “failed to adequately explain its decisions.”

The administration quickly announced that the court’s decision meant the masking order “is not in effect at this time” and that the Transportation Security Administration would stop enforcing it. Still, the administration noted that the CDC continues to recommend that people mask up on indoor public transportation.

America’s largest airlines have decided to drop their own masking requirements, as have several transit systems and Amtrak. In certain places, the crew members took off their masks in mid-flight and the pilots announced that passengers could remove their masksto cheers and in some cases, tears.

Are face masks on planes really optional? And is it safe?

For the most part, yes – they are optional. All major US airlines dropped mask mandates within hours of the court ruling, although the judge’s ruling only applied to domestic flights. Covid protocols for international flights are set by their destination country and will not be affected by Monday’s decision.

Airlines say their employees and customers can now choose whether to don a mask, and pointed out that wearing a mask can help protect other passengers. But with the TSA mandate no longer in place, airlines are not required to enforce the rule.

Since the early days of the pandemic, the airline industry has argued that planes have robust filtration systems that help reduce airborne particles, making transmissibility low for airborne diseases like Covid-19. However, some studies of transmissibility on board aircraft have come to different conclusions.

Airports are another story. With the federal mask mandate gone, local ordinances and municipalities will apply their own rules to airports. In the New York area, for example, the Port Authority said on Tuesday LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport will comply with New York public health guidelines requiring the wearing of masks. Newark Liberty International Airport in neighboring New Jersey, however, said it had lifted the mask mandate. Philadelphia International Airport said it continues to require masks in terminals.

What about buses and trains?

Transit agencies have diverged on mask rules, and even individual cities have ended up with a patchwork of different policies. In San Francisco, the BART metro network dropped mask requirementswhile San Francisco bus and tram systemwith the regional commuter train in the Bay Area, kept mask requirements in place. In Philadelphia, SEPTA said masks are not mandatory on buses, trains and in stations after the federal judge’s ruling, even though the city of Philadelphia’s indoor mask mandate was reimposed on Monday due to rising Covid cases.

The New York metropolitan area has transformed into patchwork of mask rules on Tuesday, with mask mandates remaining in effect on the MTA subway, rail and bus system, PATH trains from New Jersey to New York, and JFK and LaGuardia airports. But NJ Transit dropped onboard mask requirements.

Meanwhile, some transit agencies say they will continue to follow CDC recommendations on masking — but CDC recommendations can be confusing. They call for making mask wearing optional in indoor settings, depending on the level of community transmission of Covid-19. Other agencies are looking to state health officials for guidance, leading New York’s transit system to continue requiring masks.

Why the difference?

Airlines companies implemented mask mandates before the federal government did in the spring of 2020, with the aim of convincing the traveling public that it was safe to fly. But in recent months they have pushed to eliminate the requirement, especially as mask mandates in other indoor settings have started to fade.

On the one hand, aviation crews bore the brunt of passenger rage as they attempted to enforce the federal mandate, leading to an increase in assaults on crew members to a far greater extent than on planes and buses. The Federal Aviation Administration says masks play a role in about 70% of aviation incidents, even though unions say that the abolition of the mandate is unlikely to stop the attacks.

Financial incentives are also different for transit agencies and airlines.

Airline economist Bob Mann said the removal of the mask mandate is part of airlines’ efforts to attract business travelers. “If you can’t really provide customer service on board an aircraft – serving meals, serving drinks – then you can’t really provide the level of ‘soft product’ or additional ‘soft service’ that a business traveler pays a high multiple of selling fares to purchase,Mann said.

“I mean, you don’t get a better seat if you’re a business traveler taking the subway,” he added.

Demand for air travel rebounded to 90% of pre-pandemic levels, but that was driven by lower-cost leisure travel, rather than business travel. Private jets and charters have done excellent business during the pandemic, and commercial airlines are trying to attract these upscale travelers return with the promise of safety and service.

Will the White House appeal the decision?

The Biden administration took no immediate action to try to put the decision on hold, with the White House saying it would await comments from the Justice Department and the CDC before deciding how to proceed. On Tuesday evening, the administration said it would appeal the decision if the CDC deemed it necessary to protect public health.

A Department of Health and Human Services official told POLITICO “no decision has been made” on whether to appeal.