Flyers, metro users throw masks: “Feel free to burn them”


FILE – Travelers line up with protective masks inside Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Dec. 28, 2021. U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, Florida, April 18, 2022 , overturned the travel mask’s national mandate as beyond the authority of U.S. health officials. The mask mandate that covers air travel and other public transportation was recently extended by President Joe Biden’s administration until May 3. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)


A pilot said over the loudspeaker on a Delta Air Lines cross-country flight that passengers were no longer required to wear masks, prompting cheers from the cabin and prompting some on board to immediately throw their face coverings on their seats.

“Feel free to burn them at will,” a train conductor told commuters in New Jersey on Tuesday. However, other passengers were confused, surprised and angered by the abrupt change, especially those who booked trips thinking their unvaccinated children would be traveling in a masked environment.

A federal judge’s decision on Monday to scrap a mask requirement on public transportation removed the last major vestige of federal pandemic rules and led to a hodgepodge of new, locally created rules that reflected the continued division of the countries on how to fight the virus.

Major airlines and airports in places like Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City quickly moved to a mask-optional policy. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Connecticut continued to require them on public transportation. But a slew of other cities dropped their mandates, even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continued to recommend masking on transportation.

Brooke Tansley, TV producer and former Broadway performer, boarded a flight with her 4-year-old, 8-month-old baby – not old enough to be vaccinated – to learn the mask mandate had ended mid-flight .

“Here we are, trapped in the sky with our unmasked 8 month old baby (you can’t actually mask a baby that young) under the assumption that everyone who can be masked would be masked, and the flight crew 325 took our choices away from us,” she said in a tweet. “Very very angry about this.”

For many, however, the news was welcome. Video showed passengers on a Delta Air Lines flight cheering and clapping as they took off their masks after hearing the announcement that they were now optional. A man could be seen happily twirling his mask on his finger.

On a Southwest Airlines flight Monday from Detroit to Nashville, the optional status change was embedded in safety announcements, prompting murmurs and thumps from some passengers and no audible complaints.

In Portland, Oregon, transit workers were working immediately to remove “mask required” announcements and signs, but said it would likely take several days to remove everything.

The city has joined Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Kansas City, Missouri and two of Alaska’s largest cities, Anchorage and Juneau, in making masking optional on public transit.

“We know our passengers have mixed feelings about the term ending,” Portland transit agency TriMet said on social media. “We ask everyone to respect others as we all adjust to this change.”

Some Chicago Union Station passengers said the rules were confusing. Amtrak and Metra, the regional commuter rail service, said masks are still required, but some passengers walking through the station were not wearing them.

“It’s like this patchwork of different rules and their enforcement,” said Erik Abderhalden, who wore a mask while waiting for a Metra train at his home in suburban Naperville. “I mean, it’s like Swiss cheese…there’s no uniformity and it seems pretty slack.”

The Chicago Transit Authority also said it will still require masks on city trains and buses, for now.

Subway conductor Cooper Klinges was thrilled that New York’s transit system was not following the trend and planned to keep his mask requirement in place. While waiting at a train station in Brooklyn, New York, he said he canceled a flight earlier this year due to concerns about the virus.

“I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet,” said Klinges, a teacher, citing concerns about the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus. ” He is always there. We still have to hold on.

Ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber announced on their websites on Tuesday that masks will now be optional while riding or driving.

The national mask rule for travelers was one of the last pandemic restrictions still in place. It sparked flames online between those who felt they were essential to protecting people and those who saw them as an unnecessary inconvenience or even government exaggeration.

Some flight attendants found themselves cursed and even attacked by passengers who refused to comply.

In a 59-page court ruling, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its authority in issuing the original health order on which the directive was based. TSA. She also said the order was fatally flawed because the CDC failed to follow proper rule-making procedures.

The Justice Department declined to comment when asked if it would seek an emergency stay to block the judge’s order.

As airline and transit passengers across the country ditched masks, the White House made it clear that those traveling with President Joe Biden in New Hampshire on Tuesday would be required to keep face coverings on “in accordance to CDC guidelines. A Biden administration official also said no changes are planned to the pre-departure testing requirement for international passengers bound for the United States.

Asked on Tuesday whether people should still wear masks on planes, Biden replied, “It’s up to them.”

The CDC had recently extended the mandate for the mask, which was due to expire on Monday, until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant now responsible for the vast majority of cases in the United States. But the court ruling puts that decision on hold.

After a winter surge fueled by the omicron variant that led to record hospitalizations, the United States has seen a significant drop in the spread of the virus in recent months, leading most states and cities to drop mandates of mask.

But several Northeastern cities have seen an increase in hospitalizations in recent weeks, leading Philadelphia to bring back its mask mandate.

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 efficient air filters on modern planes make transmission of the virus during a flight highly unlikely. Republicans in Congress also fought to kill the mandate.

“We are relieved to see the US mask mandate lifted to facilitate global travel as COVID-19 transitions to a more manageable respiratory virus – with better treatments, vaccines and other science-based measures to prevent serious illness,” he said. announced Delta in a press release.


Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas. Associated Press writers David Koenig in Dallas, Michael Balsamo and Will Weissert in Washington, Karen Matthews in New York and Teresa Crawford in Chicago contributed to this report.

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Sandy A. Greer